Friday, November 6, 2009

The healing powers of a broth.

I've had a nasty cold for the last few days, and haven't been able to taste much of anything. I have, however, been craving all things brothy and spicy. I ordered some curry noodle soup from my local Vietnamese delivery place a couple of times, but decided on Monday that it was time to take the situation into my own hands.

It was time to make chicken noodle soup.

I don't have a family recipe for chicken noodle soup, but I figured I could suss it out. I chopped some carrots, celery and onion, added a bit of mustard and tomato paste for a round flavor, and added stock from my freezer. (And I do mean straight from the freezer - I didn't bother thawing it first; just let it melt right there in the pot.)

When I'd finished the first batch, it tasted good, but just a tad flat. I remembered an old chef's trick: add a dash of vinegar to a sauce or soup at the end of the cooking process to brighten it up and add dimension. I grabbed the sherry vinegar, added a shot, sprinkled in a bit more salt, and ended up pretty dang happy.

Now, I don't know about you, but one of the worst side effects of my colds is that my sense of taste is seriously dulled. The one thing that really satisfies me? Heat, of the spicy variety. So I've been eating my chicken noodle soup with healthy squeezes of Sriracha. You may or may not care to follow my lead here. I'll tell you what, though - it really clears the sinuses.

Queenie's Penicillin (Chicken Noodle Soup)

Because I wrote this recipe while I had a bad cold, I used an awful lot of salt. My advice on salt is to add small amounts throughout the cooking process, and to taste as you go. Salt should enhance flavors, not be a flavor in and of itself.

1 tbs. olive oil
1/2 medium white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, barely bruised with the back of a knife
1 large carrot, cut it half and thinly sliced into half-moons
2 stalks of celery, sliced (including tops)
2 tbs. flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
3/4 tsp. dried thyme
1 tbs. Dijon mustard
1 tbs. tomato paste
2 quarts (8 cups) chicken stock
1/2 cup frozen peas
2 cups cooked pasta (cooked to just barely al dente)
1 1/2 cups cooked chicken, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 tbs. sherry vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat the olive oil in a 4-5 quart, heavy-bottomed pan (I use my enameled cast-iron dutch oven) over high heat until shimmering. Turn the heat to medium-high, add the onion and saute until transluscent. Add the garlic and saute a minute or two more, then add the carrots and celery. Salt the vegetables (about 1/2 tsp. should do it) and saute until they begin to soften, about 3-5 minutes.

Add the parsley, thyme, mustard and tomato paste, and stir them all into the vegetable mixture. Allow to brown a bit, then add the stock. Generously salt and pepper the soup, bring to a simmer, then cover the soup and reduce heat to medium. Simmer the soup for 8-10 minutes.

Add the peas and pasta and taste for seasoning; you don't want to over-salt, but if you add a bit of salt now, it will make a rounder flavor than if you add all the salt at the end. Simmer the soup with the peas and pasta for a few minutes, then add the chicken. Simmer for another couple of minutes. Add the vinegar and stir to distribute.

At this point, you can either adjust the seasonings and serve immediately, or cool the soup, chill it in the fridge, and reheat on the stovetop later. Again - don't forget to check the seasonings before you serve!

Serves 3-4.

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