Meatballs have universal appeal. Maybe that's why NASA's original logo, a round, star-strewn design, came to be referred to as the meatball instead of the planet it was meant to depict. Here's another use for them that's out of this world: an alphabet and mini meatball soup to warm up any cold winter day.
First, make the meatballs. Combine the bread crumbs, cheese, onion, garlic, herbs, and spices in a large mixing bowl. Use a fork to mix in the egg, then add the ground beef, mixing well with your hands. Shape the mixture into 1-inch balls (you should get about 4 dozen).
Heat a skillet coated with cooking spray or a small amount of vegetable oil. Place the meatballs in the skillet and cook them over medium-low heat for 8 to 10 minutes, turning them often so they brown evenly, until the centers are only slightly pink. (If you have more meatballs than you want to use, freeze the extras after cooking and you'll have some to toss into your next pot of soup.)
For the soup, heat the oil in a large saucepan or medium soup pot. Add the onion, celery, and garlic. Partially cover the pan and cook the vegetables over moderate heat for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken stock, crushed tomatoes, and spices. Bring the soup to a simmer over medium-low heat, then add the pasta.
Keep the soup at a gentle simmer until the pasta is almost cooked, then transfer the meatballs to the pot and simmer gently for 3 minutes more to finish cooking the meatballs. Makes 6 servings.