Jan 262008

Growing up, I never quite understood why chicken noodle soup was supposed to be such great comfort food. Then again, all I had had back then were Campbell’s or otherwise canned versions, and frankly, I think it would be more comforting to be beaten up with a can of soup than it would be to eat that not-very-chickeny-really-freakin’-salty-and-gross stuff.

But then I remembered my Mom’s famous turkey soup. It wasn’t so different from a chicken noodle soup, yet it was infinitely tastier. Maybe there was hope for this much-maligned recipe after all…

The humble noodle
Nikon D50

I first tried my hand at a, well, decidedly modern take on the stuff that I found in the Mayo Clinic cookbook. It had a chicken stock and soy milk base with edamame in the soup, and well…. it was weird. I didn’t like it. But then…. last winter I was just getting into making my own stock and had had wild success with using it as the base for soups – even with recipes I had panned when I had made them with commercial chicken broth (forgive me, for I knew not what I had done). So I got to thinking that maybe it was time to give chicken noodle soup another shot, and this time I was determined to give it a fair shot.

Chicken noodle soup secret weapons: the herb satchet
Nikon D50

Disillusioned by my first disaster with the stuff, I swore off recipes and struck off on my own. Amazingly, I hit pay-dirt on my first try. I had stumbled upon the First Law of Soups (anything made with a homemade stock is guaranteed to not be bland, boring, or disgusting) and the Second Law of Soups (always cook your noodles or grains in the stock).

Unfortunately, stock tends to burn a hole in my freezer. I just can’t keep the stuff on hand, I use it as soon as I make it. If I do happen to have some in there, I’m usually saving it for something specific. But tonight I found myself with quarts and quarts of it in my freezer, even above and beyond what I will need for my upcoming minestrone soup. I also just so happened to have the salvaged chicken from my last pot of stock handy, and I realized that once again, this soup’s time had come. I mean, it’s been a tough week. I could use some comfort food. Thankfully, I’ve finally found a way for this time-honored classic to actually be comforting.

Comfort meets homemade food
Nikon D50

Actually comforting chicken noodle soup
A Jitterbean original
Serves 8-10

For minimal waste, use the chicken that you harvest when you strain your stock. Even better, if you use a whole raw chicken in your stock, cut off the breast meat when you’re cutting the bird into parts. The breasts will stay intact while the stock is simmering and will be the perfect texture to tear into chunks with your hands when it comes time to use the meat in a soup.
If you’re going to have leftovers of this stuff, keep some additional stock at the ready since sometimes the noodles (and other ingredients) continue to absorb liquid after they’re cooked. If, when you’re reheating it, it looks a little scant on liquid, just add a little more stock and the soup will be just like new.
Drizzle of olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 carrots, quartered lengthwise and chopped into quarter-circles
3 celery stalks, chopped, leaves reserved
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 sprig fresh sage
10 sprigs fresh thyme
5 sprigs fresh Italian parsley, plus more for garnish
3/4 lb cooked chicken, shredded or torn into bite-size chunks
3 cups whole wheat pasta shapes, such as fusilli or rotini
Fresh ground pepper
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large nonstick saucepan or Dutch oven. When fragrant, add the onions and saute for about two minutes. Add the carrots and celery and cook until they are very fragrant and beginning to soften, about five minutes.
While the vegetables are cooking, put the herbs (including the celery leaves) into a small cheesecloth-wrapped bundle and tie with kitchen twine.
Pour the stock over the vegetables, add the herb satchet and bring to a simmer. Cook until the carrots are only slightly underdone and are still toothy.
Add the chicken and the pasta to the pot. Cook until the pasta is al dente, about ten minutes, depending on the shape of the pasta. Take the pot off the stove and remove the herb satchet, squeezing out any liquid inside. Serve the soup hot with torn parsley leaves and ground pepper as garnish.

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