A rich meat broth is a prerequisite for this soup, which is often served as a first course for the Christmas feast, especially in the Salento, at the bottom of the Pugliese heel.
1 lb very lean ground beef or veal
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
1 garlic clove, finely minced
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup plus 2 T extra virgin olive oil
6 cups meat broth
2 bunches escarole, chard, or other winter greens
about 1/4 cup flour
1 lb stale bread
Mixing bowl, large saucepan, frying pan, 2 soup plates.
In a small bowl, mix together the ground meat, 1 egg, the bread crumbs, grated cheese, parsley, garlic, a pinch of salt, and black pepper.
Form into meatballs, about the size of a walnut.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a sauté pan over medium heat and brown the meatballs a few at a time.
Bring the broth slowly to a simmer in a 2- to 3-quart saucepan over medium-low heat. Wash the escarole in several changes of water, then sliver the leaves and add the slivers to the meat broth to simmer for 7 to 10 minutes or until the greens are tender.
Add the meatballs to the stock and continue to simmer until the meatballs are thoroughly cooked, about 10 minutes longer.
While the meatballs are simmering, place the flour on a soup plate.
In another soup plate, beat the remaining 2 eggs.
Remove the crusts from the stale bread and cut it into cubes no larger than 3/4 inch. Roll the cubes in the flour, then in the beaten eggs.
In a small sauté pan, heat the remaining 1/2 cup olive oil over medium-high heat and fry the bread cubes until they are golden brown on all sides. When they are done, drain on paper towels.
To serve, put a few bread cubes and a few little meatballs in each plate, then pour the simmering broth over.
If you wish, pass a bowl with more grated cheese to be added at the table.