Homemade chicken noodle soup with extra veggies (plus baby food version)

WE HAVE SOME PROBLEMS AROUND HERE. Two nasty little colds were followed by one awful case of pink eye and own throat-scratching, coughing in the middle of the night cold. A trifecta of germs! Making matters worse, our babysitter is MIA with a stomach virus all her own. That said, a little (maybe a lot of) comfort food is in order. Turning to Mark Bittman, one of my favorite NY Times writers, I came up with a tasty two-step approach to homemade chicken soup. This recipe isn’t quick but it is pretty easy. The painstaking part is making stock. Yes, yes, I used to think this was ridiculous. That was before I moved to Italy and realized I couldn’t buy it at the store. So, stove top stock it is.

To make stock, you basically boil the chicken for an eternity. More specifically, you add it to a bunch of simple things–an onion, a couple of carrots, two or three pieces of celery, a head of garlic, salt, pepper, parsley and in my opinion the secret ingredient, dill. It’s actually simple though because you don’t have to cut everything carefully. Just chop the veggies into big chunks and halve the onion and garlic. Don’t bother peeling either. If you’re a super nerd like me, you’ll have amassed a zip-top baggie full of carrot peelings and onion rinds from previous meals. Throw those in too. Insert a whole chicken (or pieces if you prefer) and fill the whole mess with water until it’s entirely submerged. Bring it to a boil then simmer without the lid for about 3 hours. Yep, it takes a long time. (Or just go buy some at the store.) Let it cool then strain to separate the solids from your stock. Discard the veggies but keep the chicken, which by now will be falling off the bone. Shred your chicken into bite size pieces for the soup.

When your stock is ready, it’s time to make the soup, which is very easy. First I dice and saute onions in a little butter. This is basically the first step for any soup I make. Then I add big pieces of veggies and cook until tender. On this day I used fresh carrots and zucchini. Later I added frozen spinach, which makes more sense than you think. It’s easy to get here in organic form plus the Italians freeze their greens in these handy little cubes which make pouring out a couple of handfuls–then refreezing the rest–such a snap. In comes the stock, usually about six cups. Add the chicken that you’ve removed from the bone and let the whole thing cook together for about 20 minutes.  Toward the end of the process, I add a couple handfuls of pasta. Whole wheat fusilli which are the spirals, work best. Serve with toasted crusty bread, slathered with extra virgin olive oil and a bit of salt. Let the healing begin.

Nutrition Tip: There’s one thing I always do with soups, or any dish I can get away with, I double the amount of veggies. Since soups aren’t usually finicky, it’s easy to throw in extra nutrition without messing up the flavor.

Toddler-Friendly Serving Suggestion: Phoebe will get less broth and more noodles. If you’ve got a fussy eater, try bulking up the noodles substantially and adding a pat of butter or a sprinkle of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Include at least one of each type of vegetable and throw in a piece of chicken too. We don’t make a big deal out of cleaning your plate around here but everyone is expected to try everything at least once per meal. Experts say if you introduce the same foods 10 times, your child will ultimately develop a taste for them. So this may take some time. But if they know you are serious yet reasonable in your expectations, your persistence will pay off.

Baby Food Version: As a bonus, I’ll be able to grind up a bit of this for Estelle. Spinach is a new food for her this week so she can eat the same thing we’re having, at the same time. If your baby hasn’t had one or more of the ingredients here-carrots, chicken, zucchini, spinach, garlic, onions, wheat–just omit those from your puree. Unless food allergies run in your family, any trace amounts in the broth shouldn’t cause a problem.

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