My Nonna's signature dish is one of the best meals you will ever have. The delicate meatballs are like soft pillows of chicken and Italian cheeses that provide a burst of flavor with each bite. Set aside a day to make this special meal with love.
Remove giblets from inside the chicken cavity and discard. Place the chicken in a 12-quart stock pot on the stove and fill the pot with enough water to cover the chicken. Cook on high heat, uncovered. As scum rises to the top, use a spoon to remove and discard it.
When the scum is gone, add the whole carrots, celery, sliced onion, parsley, rosemary, basil, peppercorns, a heaping tablespoon of salt, and tomatoes. Cook, covered, for four hours, starting on higher heat and lowering it after it comes to a boil. (Taste the soup after three hours and add more salt, if needed.)
After the soup has cooked, transfer the chicken to a platter. Strain the soup by pouring it through a large, fine-mesh strainer set over another pot. Discard the peppercorns and set aside the vegetables. (The veggies will be mushy but delicious with some salt. Eat or refrigerate for later; you won't need them for the soup.)
Remove the skin and bones from the chicken and discard them. Place the meat in a large bowl and shred it with a fork and knife. Add in remaining meatball ingredients and mix well with your hands or a fork. Taste a pinch to see if it needs more salt, pepper, or Parmesan.
Roll the meat mixture into 1-inch balls and place them in a single layer on sheet pans. The meatballs can stay at room temperature for up to two hours before they need to be cooked in the soup or refrigerated.
Set up your stovetop with a large pot filled with the hot soup (no heat under it), a pot with enough soup to cook your pasta (no heat until later), a shallow pan with sides to cook the meatballs, and a pot filled halfway with soup (no heat under it) to hold the meatballs after they are cooked.
In your wide, shallow pan with sides, boil two cups of soup broth and 2 cups of water. Add as many meatballs as will fit in a single layer. The meatballs will rise to the top when they are cooked, which will take 5-6 minutes. Remove the cooked meatballs with a slotted spoon and transfer them to your pot filled halfway with broth. Continue cooking the meatballs in batches, adding more water and soup to the pan as needed. It is fine to stack the cooked meatballs in the holding pot as you go.
When you are done cooking all of the meatballs, the pots can sit on the stove without heat for up to 1 1/2 hours. When you are ready to cook your pasta, heat the pasta pot on high. Place low heat under the pots containing the meatballs and the soup. Add the pasta to the boiling soup and cook until al dente. Do not drain.
To serve: Fill each large soup dish with some pasta, six meatballs, and broth ladled on top. Provide extra Parmesan at the table.
Soup, pasta, and meatballs can be stored separately in the refrigerator for up to three days. Soup and meatballs can be frozen separately for up to three months.
For this soup, the chicken needs to cook longer than usual, so that it will be soft enough for the meatballs.Five pounds of chicken will yield about 100-110 meatballs. They freeze beautifully after they are cooked. To freeze them, portion them out in a single layer in freezer bags and lay them flat in the freezer for up to three months. Add them to a pot of boiling soup (or simply use two parts chicken stock to one part water) and boil them just until heated through. Gently remove them with a slotted spoon.If you wish, you can use half of the shredded chicken for meatballs (reduce the meatball ingredients by half) and freeze the remaining shredded chicken (portioned in freezer bags) to use in other dinners, such as enchiladas.