Chicken noodle soup? In the summer? Really?
Am I pretty close to what you’re thinking? Well, as with most things in life, there’s a story to it.
When the world is an unsettled, unsettling place, I cook. Airplanes fall out of the sky. Four young boys’ day at the beach turns out to be the wrong beach. And it’s getting difficult to remember who’s at war with whom. Or why.
I can’t fix any of it. Hell, I can barely understand it. Cooking, on the other hand, makes sense to me. It organizes my thoughts, focuses them. It lets me feel productive in a small way. It is restorative.
And occasionally, a moment of sheer grace shines through the bleakness. A colleague with whom I work and his wife welcomed a beautiful little daughter a few days ago. A bunch of us were in the middle of a meeting the afternoon – timing being everything in this life – that they brought their sweet family in to share with us. While one of the little girls clambered up onto a dining room chair and proceeded to season her baby doll with salt and pepper, we cooed over the tiny baby and her gorgeous head of dark hair. The girls’ mom is a trouper; she had the baby on a Friday, and on Sunday was in church with all three girls. In heels. The mom, that is.
At some point, the reality of sleep deprivation will intrude on the the new-baby high. Remember hearing the well-intentioned, though utterly ridiculous advice to sleep when the baby sleeps? Good grief, when do people think dishes get washed; laundry, and lots of it, done and folded; dinner started? Sometimes even finished.
We could all use some soup.
Soup doesn’t really need a recipe. It just needs some ideas and ingredients. I was going for optimum comfort, ease, and nutrition. This one comes together fast, in about 40 minutes. It has tiny tender pasta for little mouths (I can so picture the little one who salted and peppered her dolly sliding them onto her fingertips!), vegetables for color and great flavor, beans and chicken, and relatively little in the way of onions and garlic – really, just enough for some flavor without passing on any more wakefulness than necessary to the sweet baby.
CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP
6 chicken thighs, skin on and bone in
Sea or kosher salt and pepper
6 carrots, peeled, cut into 1/4″ dice
6 stalks of celery, trimmed, 1/4″ dice
1 yellow onion, 1/4″ dice
2 cloves of garlic smashed, peeled, and minced
1 pound mushrooms, stems removed (save them for your stock bag), quartered
35-ounce can peeled plum tomatoes
25-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 quart vegetable or chicken stock
2 zucchini squash, 1/4″ thick slices
2 yellow squash, 1/4″ thick slices
1 pound small pasta such as little elbows or ditalini
Get all your vegetables ready to go, as this comes together fast.
Film the bottom of a heavy-bottomed soup pot with olive oil, and warm it over medium heat. When it’s hot, the oil will shimmer, or “ribbon,” add the chicken pieces to the pot, skin-side down. Allow them to brown gently, then turn them over, about 5 minutes on each side. When the other sides are also gently browned, add the carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and mushrooms. Also add the can of tomatoes and their juices.
Cover the pot with a lid, reduce the heat to medium-low, and allow the vegetables to braise for about 10 minutes, until warmed through. When the vegetables have begun to soften, use tongs to remove the chicken thighs to a cutting board.
While they cool, add the beans and stock to the pot. Raise the heat, replace the lid, and allow the soup to come to a simmer.
When the chicken pieces have cooled a bit, remove the skin and discard it. Use your hands to pull the meat from the bones, then cut it into small pieces. Return them to the pot. Simmer the soup for about 15 minutes, until the carrots (the densest of the vegetables) are tender and the flavors come together.
While the soup simmers, cook the pasta in a separate pan. If you add it to the soup in its dry state, it will tend to absorb too much liquid from the soup and likely overcook as well. Read about how much water and how much salt to use here. Cook the pasta for 2 minutes less than the time indicated on the package. Drain it through a colander.
When the vegetables are done, add the zucchini and yellow squash to the soup. Also stir in the pasta. Cook the soup for 2 minutes more. Last, season to taste with salt and pepper.
A beautiful, bright, summertime soup in under a hour. You needn’t necessarily wait for someone to have a baby to try it.