Our first full winter in Virginia has been typical of the Mid-Atlantic South. There's been just enough snow to be fun without getting tedious, and we've enjoyed as much clear, crisp sunshine as rain. Temperatures have dipped just enough to make fires, soup, and hot toddies welcome, but not too cold for attacking the weeds and vines that have overrun our garden while they're dormant.
It's the kind of weather that's perfect for chicken soup, and hardly a week has passed without a pot of broth simmering on the back of my stove, filling the house with its warming, appetite-stirring fragrance. That doesn't mean that our diet has been monotonous, however: far from it; no two pots of soup have been the same.
One of the best things about a good homemade broth is that it welcomes all kinds of additions. Sometimes it's allowed to star, sometimes it slips into the background. It can be meaty with lots of chicken, or thick with vegetables. It's a lovely host for all kinds of pasta, from slim little egg noodles, to small soup shapes such as ditalini, orzo, and stellini (stars), to hefty stuffed dumplings like anolini, tortellini, and wontons.
Earlier this month, the broth was just right for a nice, thick minestrone-style vegetable soup. We liked it so much that I made it again today, varying it just a little by adding some herbs and extra vegetables that I happened to have on hand.
Minestrone-Style Chicken Vegetable Soup
I always add several slices of gingerroot to the pot when I'm making chicken broth. If you're not using a homemade broth, or don't happen to use ginger as a rule, try grating a little fresh gingerroot into this soup for a nice sunny lift.
Feel free to add to other vegetables as you have them and your mood dictates. A little parsnip, a cup of diced cabbage, a cup of diced zucchini, and a cup of cooked cannellini or other white beans would all be nice additions. If you just can't imagine vegetable soup without tomatoes, add a cup of peeled, seeded, and chopped canned plum tomatoes.
Keep in mind that every addition increases the yield, but that's all good, because these kinds of soups are even better the second day. If it starts getting too thick, thin it out with more broth as needed.
Serves 2-3 as a main dish, 4 as a soup course
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup diced onion (about 1 medium onion, trimmed, split lengthwise, peeled, and diced)
1 cup peeled and diced carrot (about 1 large)
1 cup washed, strung, and diced celery (about 2 large ribs)
1 cup frozen petit peas, thawed
1 cup haricots verts or other small green beans, washed, trimmed, strung, and sliced the same size as the diced vegetables
1 cup peeled and diced Yukon gold potato (about 1 medium-large)
2 scallions or small green onions, washed, trimmed and sliced, white and green parts separated
4 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade
1 cup ditalini or other small soup pasta
1-1½ cups diced cooked chicken
½ baguette or other crusty bread, thickly sliced
1. Put the butter in a heavy-bottomed 3-to-4 quart pot (I use an enameled iron soup pot) over medium-low heat. Add the onion and sauté until it's translucent and beginning to soften, about 4 minutes. One at a time, add the carrot, celery, peas, and haricots verts, sautéing until each addition is bright and beginning to soften.
2. Add the potatoes and white parts of the scallions and sauté until they're hot. Add the broth, raise the heat to medium-high, and bring it to a boil, then adjust the heat to a gentle simmer and cook until the vegetables are all tender, about 15-20 minutes. Taste and adjust the salt as needed.
3. While the soup simmers, fill a separate 2 quart pot three-quarters full with water, cover, and set it to boil over medium high heat. When it's boiling, stir in a spoonful of salt and the pasta. Adjust the heat to a gentle boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, using the package cooking directions as a rough guide. Drain.
4. Stir the chicken, and green parts of the scallions into the soup. If it seems too thick, thin it with broth or water as needed. Let it come back to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is heated through, about 2-3 minutes longer. Stir in the pasta, let it warm through (less than a minute), then taste and adjust the salt as needed. Serve at once with sliced baguette.