This vegan spin on the classic Italian Wedding Soup is comforting, delicious, and full of texture and nourishment. Savory sausage bean balls are tucked into a warm broth with tiny pasta and vibrant greens. I used a gorgeous Redbor kale, but you can easily sub in spinach or escarole. Make the bean balls ahead of time to pop into the soup for an easy weeknight meal!
The sausage beans balls for this recipe come together easily. One bowl and a baking tray are all you need. Once the beans have been mashed up a bit and all the other ingredients have been added, the bean dough is kneaded. This is an important step so that the gluten strands can develop and hold the balls together. Gluten is amazing for this reason. It’s what gives bread its structure, what holds a lot of store-bought veggie meats together, it’s the main ingredient in seitan and gives veggie meats that striated look and “meaty” texture. The second very important step is to let the bean dough chill in the fridge so that the gluten strands have time to become hydrated. If you skip these steps, I suspect the balls will taste amazing but they will be more fragile. We want to set them up so they hold together in the yummy soup we’re about to make!
The soup is a nice simple one, a veggie broth with carrots, onions, garlic, herbs, white wine for some dressed up flavor, tiny pasta and some torn kale. A lot of Italian Wedding Soup recipes call for spinach or escarole, but kale is what I had at the time and it was perfect. The pasta is cooked in the broth so you have one less pot to wash later, and the noodles pick up the flavors of the broth.
Once the bean balls are made, keep them out of the soup until it’s time to serve. If they are dumped in and sit for a while in hot broth, they will swell and become fragile. Ladle some broth in to each bowl when it’s time to eat, and place some bean balls on top.
These bean balls are also great in other dishes. Place them in a toasted bun and ladle hot pasta sauce over them, serve them over spaghetti and sauce, or toss a few in a bowl of mixed roasted and fresh veggies with your favorite dressing or hummus for a lunch bowl.
Vegan Italian Wedding Soup
For the Bean Balls:
- 2.5 cups navy beans
- ½ cup panko bread crumbs
- ⅓ cup vital wheat gluten
- ⅛ cup nutritional yeast
- 3 tbsp olive oil plus more for coating
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed/minced
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- ¼ tsp dried sage
- ⅛ tsp cayenne pepper
For the Soup:
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 cup carrots, diced (about 3 large)
- ½ cup white wine
- 9 cups vegetable broth
- 1 cup orzo, or other tiny pasta
- 1 bunch kale, deveined and torn into bite size pieces
For the Bean Balls:
- Mash the beans in a large bowl with a fork or potato masher until no whole beans are left (don't overdo it though, there should be bean pieces left for texture, it shouldn't look like hummus.) Add in the rest of the ingredients and mix until very well blended. Either using your hands or the fork, keep mixing an extra 2 minutes to get the gluten forming. Cover the bowl and place in the fridge for at least half an hour. Both the kneading and the chilling is key for bean balls that hold their shape.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a large baking pan with parchment paper. Remove the bean mixture from the fridge. For bean balls going into the soup, scoop 1/2 tablespoons of the mixture and then rolled into balls. Drizzle the bean balls with a few tablespoons of olive oil and gently shake the tray back and forth so the balls roll around and get evenly coated in the oil. Rearrange the balls on the tray so they aren't touching each other. This helps them crisp up. Bake for 10 minutes or until lightly browned on the bottom. Turn the balls and bake another 8-10 minutes or until golden. If you're wanting bigger balls, go for it but they will need to bake longer and may not hold their shape as well. The bean balls will firm up as they cool.
For the Soup:
- In a large pot, add the olive oil over med-low heat. Toss in the onion and carrots and cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the wine to deglaze. Pour in the soup stock, increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to directions but at 1 minute before it's done, add the kale.
- To serve, place 5 or 6 bean balls in each soup bowl, and ladle the soup over them.