Friday, February 12, 2016

Soup For You!

I am the antithesis of the Soup Nazi: I want soup for everyone!

I love soup. I love to eat it, and I love to make it. It is one of the few things that I make on a regular basis with no recipe. When I make soup, I taste it at every step, and if it's not quite right, I add something. The result is that I usually end up with several GALLONS of soup, but it's really good soup, so I don't mind.

If you followed yesterday's blog and made yourself a nice roast chicken and then a bunch of homemade chicken broth, you probably have all the ingredients to make some delicious chicken soup. Usually I post a complete recipe at the end of my cooking blogs, but I'm not going to do that today, because there is no recipe. The pertinent amounts for making this soup are "about that much" and "to taste". Your perfect soup is not quite the same as my perfect soup. Taste it, fix it, love it.

So here's how to make YOUR perfect soup. First of all, if at all possible, recruit an assistant, preferably one under the age of 10 (child labor is cheap).

My helper is 6 and his main kitchen skills are cracking eggs, peeling carrots, and entertaining the chef. The latter two skills come into play for this particular recipe. I like carrots (at least in soup), but the rest of my family does not, so I had my minion peel three medium-sized carrots, then I cut them into very thin slices. I often use a mandolin when I make soup, and I use it for the carrots, celery, and onions, but I was too lazy to get it out today, so I just used a knife. 

I like my carrots quite soft, so I slice them thin. You can leave them thicker if you prefer, or if you want to get fancy you can slice them on an angle or even julienne them. 

If you don't have any fresh carrots, frozen carrots are fine. You don't even need to thaw them, just chuck them right in. 

Likewise, you can leave the celery in large chunks if you prefer. My family has texture issues and is able to ignore the celery if I chop it very fine or slice it thinly on the mandolin. I used about three stalks, but use more or less, according to your personal preference.

I like the flavor of onion in chicken soup, but not so much the texture, so I used about 3/4 of a small onion and chopped it rather finely. If you like onion, slice it thin on a mandolin but then only cut the slices in half or in thirds for some nice texture. I made up for it by adding onion powder later on. 

Feel free to add other vegetables if you like. Dump in some frozen peas and/or corn; chop up some kale or arugula or whatever greens you have on hand. Add some fresh herbs. 

Finally, chop your leftover roast chicken into bite-sized pieces. I'm not generally a fan of dark meat, but I do like it in soup, so I tend to save the breast meat for other dishes and use mostly the dark meat in soup. Again, go with your own preference. I used maybe 2 cups or so in this recipe, but if you like a hearty soup or intend it as a main meal, feel free to add more. Toss the vegetables into a large saucepan or a Dutch oven and pour a bunch of broth over them. How much is a bunch? I dunno. 6 cups or so? Depends on how much broth you like with your soup and how much broth you have on hand. I tend to go by "how many containers of broth do I need to use to empty out the amount of refrigerator space that I need for tomorrow's leftovers?" balanced by "how big is the pot that is currently clean?".

Bring the broth to a boil and add your pasta. Traditional chicken soup calls for egg noodles, but you can use whatever small pasta you prefer. I often use elbow noodles, small shells, or rotini, but this time my husband requested angel hair broken into small pieces. I used probably half a package, broken into 1-2" pieces. It turned out to be a rather generous amount once it was reconstituted. Yet again, use whatever amount you prefer. You can also use Minute Rice or cooked sticky rice instead of pasta, and if you have leftover cooked pasta, that's fine, too. Be aware that both uncooked pasta and rice will absorb a fair amount of broth, so you may want to add more stock after it's cooked! Allow to boil for at least the cooking time according to the package of your pasta of choice.

While the pasta is boiling, add in some herbs. Salt, pepper, poultry seasoning. Or throw in some thyme, sage, and marjoram. Or basil and oregano. Or lemon pepper. Or rosemary. I add very little salt when I make chicken broth, so I add a fair amount of salt. I also like to add some garlic powder (or minced garlic) and onion powder (especially if I don't add much real onion). Parsley is pretty and adds a bit of green - dried is fine; fresh is even better. Toss in a bay leaf if you like, but don't forget to fish it out before serving. Some people even like a pinch of red pepper flakes for just a hint of a kick. Taste right after you add everything; taste again after the pasta is cooked, particularly if you added extra broth. Adjust the seasonings until it works for you. 

Serve and enjoy!

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