Leftover Chicken & Vegetable Soup

soupAnyone else out there feel like all you’ve been doing the past two weeks is eating? I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but Dave and I spent several days this week in my hometown (Athens, AL) stuffing our faces, completely abandoning any hope of trying to stay “healthy.” When we got back from Athens, we were just full. As much as we enjoyed every bite of the grilled pork chops with home-grown greens & mashed potatoes (thanks, Dad & Malena), Mama Charlie’s Out-of-this-World Cake (don’t worry; she gave me the recipe), Whitt’s BBQ, Mom’s specialty/magical chocolate oatmeal cookies (they were still warm when I got to them… mmmm…), Heath’s cake balls, Grandmother’s over-the-top spread of food on Christmas Eve (which we nibbled on for about 5 hours while opening presents, playing Taboo and chasing around an adorable baby girl!) and, finally, my Christmas morning breakfast (biscuits from scratch, veggie frittatas, and sausage balls), the thought of a big meal made both of us sort of nauseous.

The challenge, of course, was to figure out what to make out of the remnants of last week’s farmer’s basket. The result was pretty delicious. This isn’t so much a recipe as a method, like most of the things I’ve been posting lately. I mean, I’ll give you the recipe, but I’m also going to highlight two or three little tricks to keep in mind next time you make soup from scratch.

Leftover Chicken & Vegetable Soup

couple of chicken thighs

diced onion

diced green bell pepper

couple cloves diced garlic

a few diced carrots

A small can diced tomatoes

fresh green beans, ends trimmed & chopped into thirds

about 1/2 cup white wine (optional)

about 5 cups chicken stock

about 2/3 cup ditalini

salt & pepper & EVOO

leftover rind of parmesan cheese

First: start to cook your pasta in a small pan with boiling, salted water, but only for a few minutes – don’t let it cook all the way through. It’ll continue to cook in the soup. When it’s partially cooked (maybe 4-5 minutes?) drain it and set it aside to add to the soup later. I love ditalini for this soup, but any small pasta will do. Tip 1: pasta in soup adds heartiness and helps make soup feel like more of a meal rather than an appetizer or first course. Tip 2: I mean it when I say to only cook your pasta partially in the soup. The starches that come out of the pasta in the broth will thicken the soup and make it even heartier. Tip 3: don’t have pasta? Add some white or red beans, drained & rinsed from a can.

Meanwhile, preheat a large pot over medium high heat with a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Season a couple of chicken thighs with salt, pepper & Italian seasoning. Cook them in the pot, searing for 4 minutes per side. If they don’t get completely cooked through for some reason and you’re paranoid about, like, e. coli, throw them in a 350 degree oven for about 7 minutes to let them finish cooking. However, 4 minutes per side should get them cooked just enough for you to shred the meat and set aside. You’ll add the shredded meat back to the soup later, and the chicken will cook all the way through in the simmering soup if they aren’t completely done when you pull them off the stove.

Tip 4: chicken thighs are fantastic for soups. Dark meat gives the soups more flavor than white meat, thighs tend dry out less than chicken breasts, and they’re usually much cheaper than chicken breasts. Keep a few individually wrapped in the freezer for emergency soup cooking days, like I do. Tip 5: browning the chicken in the same pot you’ll use for your soup also gives a TON of delicious flavor in the form of crusty brown bits that form on the bottom of the pan. You’ll scrape up those brown bits when you deglaze the pan later.

Once you pull the chicken out of the pot and set it aside to shred, add a tiny bit more olive oil and your onions, bell peppers, and carrots, with a dash of salt & pepper. Let them cook until just tender – maybe 7 minutes? – then add the garlic. Then, pour in your wine, and start scraping up all those little brown bits at the bottom of the pan (we call that deglazing the pan). Bring the wine to a simmer and add chicken stock. If you aren’t using wine, just do the same deglazing thing with your chicken stock. Then add your can of tomatoes and your green beans.

At this point, add salt & pepper to taste, and throw in the chicken and pasta. Also, if you’ve got it, throw in an old parmesan cheese rind you’ve stored in your freezer. Tip 6: I know it sounds odd, but adding a rind of parmesan cheese adds a velvety, salty, nutty flavor and texture to soups that no other ingredient can match. I always save the rinds of my big chunks of parm for this purpose. Just keep them in a freezer bag in the freezer (duh), and pull them out to use whenever you make soups – especially those that have some sort of Italian flare, like this one, with the tomatoes and Italian seasonings and such.

Let the soup simmer for as long as you can stand it – up to an hour. Enjoy with a piece of buttered crusty bread, and freeze the leftovers. As you can see from the picture, I enjoyed mine with a delicious IPA in a frosty glass – but let’s be honest, I’ll enjoy just about anything with an IPA in a frosty glass.

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