The final resting place for any chicken that has been roasted in my house is a pot on the stove. When it would appear that most of the meat has been used up in salads, quesadillas and fried rice, there is always more to be coaxed off by a stint in the hot tub. Yesterday I covered the last of two chickens with water and added a handful of chives from the garden, a few peppercorns, and that was it. (And always add any chicken gel that might be left in the bottom of the roasting pan or container you stored it in in the fridge.) You could add any kind of vegetable trimmings you like – onion skins to make it darker and richer – or roast the carcass in the oven first, which is akin to browning meat; it caramelizes any natural sugars in there, adding flavour to the resulting stock.
Contrary to popular belief, stock does not have to simmer for hours on end, nor must you boil an entire chicken to rubber in order to make stock. A half-hour simmer is fine, then turn the heat off and let it all cool down – sort of like steeping a big pot of chicken tea. When it’s cool enough, pull out the bones and help the bits of meat fall off into the stock – a perfect base for soup.
I’ve had a jar of alphabet noodles on my shelf for at least a year – something I thought I should have when I became a mum, but not the sort of thing I often think of cooking with. W likes to play with them, but I have yet to actually add them to anything. Today I thought I’d reheat my chickeny stock, along with some chopped carrots and alphabet noodles. It seemed boring.
Then I remembered a soup Mike used to be addicted to when he worked in a deli decades ago – it was called Italian wedding soup; a basic chicken soup made with teeny meatballs, greens and tiny pasta stars. (I’m pretty sure Campbell’s makes a version of it in one of their hoity toity varieties.) I had greens. I had meatballs, even if they weren’t teeny. I cut them in half. I did a quick internet search to see if I was missing anything, and noticed Giada makes a version (with endive or escarole) in which she whisks together egg and Parmesan cheese and dribbles it into the hot broth, creating a cloudy soup with ribbons of egg, reminiscent of egg drop soup.
Alphabet Wedding Soup
I’d love to try this with sausage meatballs; squeeze lean Italian sausage out of their casings at about 1/2″ intervals to make small meatball-sized pieces that will hold together as they simmer in the soup.
3-4 cups chicken stock, preferrably with pieces of chicken in it
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1/3 cup alphabet or other small pasta
about a dozen marble-sized meatballs, or small bits of sausage (uncooked)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
a couple handfuls of fresh baby spinach, chard or escarole
Bring the stock to a simmer in a pot on the stove. Add the carrot, pasta and meatballs and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through and the pasta is tender.
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and Parmesan cheese; drizzle into the hot soup, stirring gently so that it doesn’t completely blend in, but cooks in strands. Throw in the spinach and cook for another minute or two, until it wilts.
Season with salt and pepper, and serve with extra Parmesan cheese on top.