What with crumbles and pot roasts I appear to be on a bit of a traditional cooking kick a the moment. Part of it is because there’s a reason the old classics are classic – we’re talking seriously good food here – but it’s also because I’m increasingly realising what a pleasure it is to share great classic food with the Minx who is experiencing it for the first time. It makes me seriously happy to see her hoovering up things like homemade apple crumble with gusto.
Another of the Minx’s favourites is Chicken Noodle Soup. This has only entered my repertoire fairly recently, but we’ve been making it A LOT as it’s a very easy way to give a kid (and adults) a complete and tasty meal in a bowl, with plenty of leftovers for lunch and supper.
I use as my starting point Alice Waters’ recipe from The Art of Simple Food (one of the best cookbooks I’ve come across in America) which essentially makes the soup in two stages.
Firstly create an intensely-flavoured chicken broth by taking bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (or sometimes I use thighs) and simmering them for 45 mins in store-bought chicken broth (or stock-cube stock), with roughly sliced onions, roughly chopped carrots and a little roughly chopped parsnip. Alice Waters adds celery, I of course do not because cooked celery is the work of the devil. Instead, because I am Italian, I add some roughly chopped cloves of garlic and one or two squooshy old tomatoes from the depths of the fridge.
If you want some more precise quantities then an adaptation of Waters’ recipe is here. Though I seriously would encourage you to buy the book or just improvise using these instructions. I tend to guesstimate based on what I have to hand and how much I want to make. All I would say is be measured in your use of parsnip. Its subtle sweetness is a wonderful addition to the soup, but a little goes a long way.
When the broth has simmered for about 45 minutes, hoik out the meat and skim and strain the broth, discarding the vegetables. Remove the skin and bone from the meat and shred it into small pieces. Put it in a small bowl, cover with a couple of spoonfuls of broth and then cover the bowl. This way the meat remains moist, and yes, it does seem to make a difference.
About twenty minutes before you want to serve your soup, whizz up some more onion, carrot and parsnip in the food processor until finely chopped. I do it in the processor, instead of dicing the vegetables by hand, because a) it’s easier and b) it’s incredible how much vegetable matter the Minx will inhale if it’s chopped so finely she can’t see it. Again Alice Waters adds celery, I don’t but add garlic and go easy on the parsnip.
Simmer the broth with the fresh vegetables for about ten minutes and then add fettuccine or soup noodles and cook them until soft (Alice Waters cooks her noodles separately and then adds them at the end. I have no idea why you would want to do this). When the noodles are ready, stir in the reserved chicken and get ready for some serious comfort food.
Alice Waters suggest sprinkling with chopped dill to finish. I prefer some chopped Italian parsley, some grated Parmesan cheese, and little freshly ground nutmeg, which seems to meld with the parsnip flavour to add an intriguing extra dimension to the dish.
How do you make chicken soup? I think it’s one of those dishes where there’s an infinite number of variations and you’ve probably all been making it longer than I have.