The one cookbook that has continually been my saving grace during this season of moving and new motherhood is Jenny Rosenstrach's Dinner: A Love Story. If you buy only one cookbook in 2013, this should be it. As in all other things, like pizza and turkey burgers and chicken parmesan, Jenny doesn't disappoint when it comes to chicken soup. I made her chicken soup with orzo after church on Sunday, for lunch with my sister-in-law and niece.
It's not the chicken that makes this soup special, because you can use rotisserie chicken, or any cut of chicken you prefer. Jenny uses chicken breasts, but I used boneless chicken thighs because I think they have more flavor, and the meat is just so much more tender and moist. Also, rather than cooking the chicken and shredding it in the soup as Jenny directs, I just cut mine into very small pieces, because to be honest, I wanted it to cook faster and I didn't want to be bothered shredding it (Laziness? Perhaps).
I think the secret here is the wine. It's just half a cup, but oh my. It adds a depth of flavor, a nuance of sophistication, that chicken soup doesn't usually possess. It's got that thing, what the French call je ne sais quoi. Aside from the wine, the other ingredients are what you'd expect: good stock, onion, carrot, celery, noodles.
I really love the orzo, with its rice-like shape, as the noodle of choice in this. It adds a nice texture and just seems a bit more refined than the traditional egg noodles. In addition to salt and pepper, I used some thyme instead of the parsley the recipe called for because, well, I don't do chicken soup without thyme.
Jenny suggests stewing a parmesan cheese rind in the soup as well. I didn't bother trying to find one, but I did take heed of her other suggestion: shredded parmesan sprinkled on top for serving. It was delicious. Along with it, we had a green salad and some of this bread.
E, who doesn't generally get excited about chicken soup, said he could eat this any time, which pretty much summed up what the rest of us were feeling. If a bowl of chicken soup could ever be deemed gourmet, this is it.
Chicken Soup with Thyme, White Wine and Orzo
adapted from Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3-4 carrots, peeled and chopped
3-4 celery ribs, chopped
two sprigs fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon sea salt (more as needed to taste)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (more as needed to taste)
1/2 cup chardonnay or other semi-dry white wine
6-8 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade or organic
1-1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
1-1/2 cups orzo pasta
Shredded parmesan cheese for serving
In a large soup pot or Dutch oven (5 quarts or more), sauté the onion, carrots and celery in the olive oil over medium-low heat until tender (about 10 minutes), taking care not to scorch them. Add the salt, pepper, and thyme.
Pour in the wine and turn the heat up to medium-high until the liquid is bubbling away. Cook, stirring often, until the wine has almost disappeared.
Add the chicken stock and bring the soup to a boil, then add the cut-up chicken. If you are using rotisserie chicken, which is already cooked, just give it a couple of minutes to return to a boil, so that it has heated through, and then proceed to the next step. If you are using uncooked chicken, allow the soup to simmer over low heat for 20-30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.
When the chicken is fully cooked, add the orzo and cook for another 5-7 minutes, until the pasta is al dente (if you're using a larger noodle, the cook time will be longer, of course). If it's become thicker than you like, add a little more stock until you reach the desired consistency. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt and pepper if needed.
Serve with some chopped fresh parsley, freshly ground pepper and shredded parmesan for garnish. A bright green salad and some hearty bread make perfect accompaniments.
For the printable recipe, click here.