This soup was passed down from my Grandmother's family; made for generations. Pasta was a main ingredient for many meals because it was a lot cheaper to feed big families. My grandmother made her own fresh pasta & I have wonderful memories of family gatherings with lots of meatballs, sausage, homemade Italian bread, wine & lots of people! When my husband went on Atkins, I replaced the orzo with barley. I think the barley enhances the soup's flavors. My husband, kids, other family & friends rave about this soup. I've made it for potluck days at work & my boss & coworker always ask for this!!
In place of the mini-meatballs, I make Italian sausage balls. Saute the finely chopped onions & mushrooms in 2 TBSP of Olive Oil (or any oil) until tender; add to the sausage along with the parmesan cheese & egg. Wet your hands & using a teaspoon make small balls & place on a baking pan & cook for 15 min. or fry in a pan until browned over most sides. I bake mine at 350* on a double broiler pan in my toaster oven so any fat drips off into the bottom. Wetting your hands keeps the meat from sticking to them. I do this when I make meatballs, hamburgers or any other ground meat mix.
Put the water in a soup pot & add the barley & chicken soup base. Chop your carrots, onion & celery & add to the pot. I sometimes dice additional mushrooms & add to the soup for more flavor & substance. Stir occasionally & taste the broth. Add more soup base if you feel it needs more flavor. DO NOT ADD PLAIN SALT. The soup base has adequate salt. You may add black pepper if you want. Cover, bring to a boil & simmer while the sausage balls are being made & cooked. If you do not have chicken soup base, you can use bouillon but I don't think the bouillon makes as good a flavor. Look on the top shelf in the grocery store where ever canned soup is, for the soup base. This is a paste type of product. You will see beef, ham & even vegetable base like this depending on your store. I prefer "Orrington Farms Broth Base".
Add sausage balls to the soup (do not have to be fully cooked, they will finish cooking in the soup) & cook 5 min.; then add the spinach & cook another 5 minutes (the spinach does not have to be thawed or drained before adding. I add mine frozen. Also, I have tried using fresh spinach but for some reason it did not work as well as the frozen.). The soup is done! Serve just by itself or with slices of Italian bread to dip in the broth. Add a salad for a complete meal! This is a hearty soup that fills you up & then leaves you wanting more later!