It is said that in the spring, a young man’s fancy turns to love. Well, that may be nice and all, but as far as I’m concerned, in the spring my fancy turns to mazto balls.
Why this is I’m not sure. For one, I’m not Jewish. But I love a good mazto ball soup far more than an Easter ham. Maybe that’s because, aside from a good prosciutto, I just don’t really like ham. Mazto balls, on the other hand, what’s not to like? It’s a meatball made out of eggs and crackers and made into a dumpling—yum.
I can’t even say when I might have had my first matzo ball—it may have been at Rein’s Deli in Vernon, CT—a pit stop mid-way between Boston and NYC that anyone who’s a fan of a good Jewish deli knows and holds very dear. My favorite matzo balls, though, are from the New England Soup Factory in Brookline, MA. Being a bit of a soup freak, I spent countless lunch hours stopping at the soup factory to pick up a soup or salad or sandwich when I lived in Boston. And their mazto ball soup is one of my favorites.
A good mazto ball can come in many sizes. At the Soup Factory, that size is XXL. Their mazto balls are literally the size of a baseball (another sure sign of spring). Ordering the matzo ball soup there takes an extra 5 or 10 minutes for your order to be ready because they take the balls out of the fridge and warm them up first before ladling the soup and egg noodles, if you order them (and why wouldn’t you want both noodles and a matzo ball? Bring on the starch, baby!), into your to-go soup cup. Whereas most soup orders there come in a 12 oz plastic container, the mazto ball soup order always comes in a quart-sized container, half of which is consumed by the ball itself.
What’s good about these matzo balls, in addition to being XXL, is that despite being so large and feeling physically heavy in the container, they’re not heavy in taste at all. A bad matzo ball (one that its perhaps too egg-y) is heavy and dense. A good one is light, almost airy enough to melt on the tongue. And it should taste ever-so faintly of onion, maybe a bit of parsley, and the pièce de résistance —dill.
Having worked in the Brookline schools for a few years, I learned to cook Passover food with my students each year to celebrate the spring holidays—and also because many of the kids could only have matzo and jelly during snack time for a week each spring. Being ambitious in the kitchen, even when kids are involved, I decided to start making matzo ball soup with the kids during Passover every spring. So, now it doesn’t feel like spring to me if I don’t make matzo ball soup sometime during March or April.
Admittedly, I’m lazy when it comes to making the balls themselves—I have yet to try making my own and usually just rely on a store bought mix for the matzo meal itself. I also opt for making small matzo balls for my own soup—no more than about an inch in diameter. This way you get to have about 4-5 balls per serving of soup.
Aside from the matzo balls themselves, the key to a good matzo ball soup I think is dill. Your broth absolutely needs to be flavored with some fresh dill. This is what sets a good matzo ball soup apart from just plain old chicken noodle soup—the dill and the balls themselves. As far as I’m concerned, matzo ball soup just ain’t got that thrill if it ain’t got that dill. I like to have a little dill in both, but I mostly use it to flavor my broth, especially since I’m usually only cooking for myself, I can’t be bothered to make my own stock. To make a great broth worthy of some nice fluffy matzo balls, I make my own bouquet garni of dill, parsley, garlic and chives (yup, that’s another secret – chives add some more onion-y flavor to your broth in addition to the onion added to your soup), tie them up in a bit of cheesecloth and submerge the little packet into the broth—and then I don’t take it out—I leave it in the broth even after cooking to keep flavoring the soup on day 2, 3 or 4…
So, here’s my impromptu, spring matzo ball soup formula: Prep matzo balls as directed on package—they usually need o chill for 30-40 minutes. Poach 1 chicken breast in chicken broth with pepper, half onion and garlic in saucepan. In the meantime, sauté half a diced onion in olive oil until translucent in stockpot, then add 2-3 diced carrots and 2-3 diced celery stalks and sauté until slightly soft. Add 6-8 cups chicken stock, salt and pepper to taste. Add bouquet garni of dill, garlic, chives and parsley and submerge in broth. Let simmer for approximately 30 minutes. When chicken has poached, remove from broth and shred. Add shredded chicken to broth and half package of fine egg noodles (you can even get whole wheat ones if you want to be diet conscious). When noodles are almost cooked, add matzo balls to soup—soup will be done when the matzo balls float.
Even though Passover and Easter are late this year, I’m already thinking about matzo balls—I may even have to break tradition and make some soup before Passover…