Saturday, October 19, 2019

Chicken Soup for the Soul

I have said before that Italian food is much, perhaps bland is not a good choice...mellower than we think of it in the US.  So many young(and old) men try to impress everyone with being able to consume the hottest food possible(and suffer for it all evening and next morning) that we have a very spicy view of Italian food.  There are some very spicy dishes in Italy.  Most of them are from the deep south, and not Sicily exactly.  Calabria comes to mind immediately, and that is because when you walk the streets of southern towns you see festoons of hot red peppers hanging in the sun.  Much Italian food has a few sprinkles of red pepper in a dish, but the morning Fire Dance on the toilet is not common there.

Chicken soup therefore is not an unusual dish on the lunch table.

Often, the meal will be a little bowl of soup as a starter.
Then there will be a rather plain dish of pasta, perhaps with Marinara sauce or a few bits of sausage, mushrooms or vegetables in it. Whatever is in season will appear, as in most Italian dishes.

Then the boiled chicken or pot roast(Italian style) will be cut up and served(this is where the broth came from for the soup).  There might be a seasonal salad or vegetable side dish(a Contorno) and then there will be nuts, cheese and fruit.  A sweet may also follow.

In most cases, though this seems like a lot of food, each plate will be a tiny amount spread around to the family.  The pasta is not a very big dish either.

Mostly soup will be the byproduct of whatever meat is being cooked(Steaks and oven roasts are a side issue which would have a different appetizer.)

Mainly, you would stew a roast or foul(usually an old one) and serve the liquids as a soup for the first course. Perhaps scraps of meat might end up in the soup, some of the veggies from the roast or a few hands full of greens from the lawn or back lot, etc.. My Great Aunt sent me out to the railroad tracks beyond town to gather Fennel in Italy.

Soup as an event or a whole meal is less common.

Here though, we have a different view of soup, as a main dish, but some tips from the Italians can help.

Flavoring soup is a very diverse subject.  Unfortunately we have in this country a view of soup as the Campbell's broth base with a few noodles floating around in it.  That can be good, but there is a world of flavorings that you can use.  I used to think that starting with a plain chicken and adding an onion(unpeeled and chopped), a celery stalk or two and a carrot or two(also unpeeled) was all there was to it.  Don't forget the parsley for its grassy freshness and even a lemon rind.

Now I am an opportunist soup maker.  I try to make soup once a week if I can, and use the leftover meats and broth to help out.

Basic Chicken soup from raw.

Cut up a whole small chicken into several pieces.  Into a large pot and cover with water.  Chop up a medium onion without peeling it(very coarse chopping, perhaps just scraping of the roots if they are dirty) Two medium carrots coarsely chopped, little greens top removed but the rest unpeeled and just washed.
A couple of coarsely chopped celery ribs and especially the leafy parts.

Do not forget the giblets when making the broth.  If you have them, cut up and add.  The liver can be set aside for other uses, and there are many.

Bring this all to a boil and reduce.  As it boils, skim off the foam that forms at the top if you want your soup clearer. Add parsley(1-2 tablespoons), just a little sage, a clove of crushed garlic(if you like), salt and pepper to taste.  Correct at the end, so do not over do the salt.

Now, cover, reduce the heat and simmer for as long as you have available.  A soup can be made in an hour, or wait for four hours.
As the chicken is cooked, you can remove it to a platter and carve the portions that you want to serve separately.  I cut the meat off the breasts for sandwiches.  Return the bones and all the meat that you want in the soup to the pot as you continue to simmer. 

Cool the pot slightly and remove the solids with a slotted spoon and spread out to cool.  Strain the rest into a bowl and cool the broth until all the fat has risen to the top.

Pick the bones and the solids for every scrap of edible meat. Chop coarsely and return to the pot.
If you want to keep the cooked veggies(they are pretty useless now as everything good is in the broth now.  But you can mash them to a paste and use in the soup which will become cloudy as a result.  Some like to make use of the fiber in the veggies.  Personally I throw them out or snack on them as I cook.)

Skim off the fat from the broth with a ladle.  Leave a bit.  We all need a little fat in our diet.  Discard bones(they are too dry and brittle to be crunched up and eaten as some people do.  They will only break up into slivers and can puncture you inside.

Return the meat, the broth, freshly chopped(skinned veggies), mushrooms, etc. to the pot and bring to a boil till the new veggies are cooked.  Add rice or pasta to cook near the end, and if you do not want to reduce the volume of the broth, cook the starches separately and add at the end.  Adjust salt and serve with fresh bread, biscuits or Garlic bread and a bowl of Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese on the side.  Any regional grating cheese will be good.  There is wonderful grating cheese with peppercorns in it.

You may pre cook all the vegetables used in soup and or broth by tossing them in a tiny bit of olive oil.  spread them out on a cookie sheet and roast in the oven till they have browned tips on everything.  Then put into the water for the broth.

Second Version

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