Every so often, I've found myself making soup for lunch. However, it invariably ends up being just eaten by myself as the menfolk seem to prefer beans on toast, or something in a packet involving pastry for their lunches. Now I like soup - but eating the same one for the next four lunchtimes gets a bit dull, no matter how good it is.
So, as a result, I've been developing a nice line in "Dinner soup". That is, the kind of soup that - having partaken of a bowlful - you know you've eaten. A soup with a nice balance of protein, vegetable and carbohydrate that, without the liquid, could pass for a main course with perhaps a little gravy added.
One such is this chicken & vegetable dinner soup.
Now we all know the reputation that chicken soup carries with it - of being wholesome, healthy and akin to penicillin in lots of situations. That's a fairly unbeatable place to start. My thinking was to stay with that spirit and not add anything that would be superfluous to the cause. No wine, or butter, or cream, or spice. Just chicken, vegetables and herbs. Clean, pure and simple.
The task was to get every last bit of chicken flavour into the soup and prevent it from becoming a vegetable soup with chicken, yet not cook the chicken to within an inch of its life. I think my method of poaching the chicken in the soup stock, then removing it and adding it back at a later stage, took advantage of both those requirements. The stock had the benefit of the chicken cooking in it, but the late addition of the chicken prevented the meat from becoming overcooked. Perfect. In the meantime, the veggies had a lovely time bathing in some very chickeny chicken stock and all of them were chosen to complement the chicken flavour in one way or another.
I will admit to having a terrible wrangle with myself over pasta versus dumplings. I did SO want to include dumplings, but I also wanted to include pasta - and I knew we were going to be eating the soup with crusty bread so three major carbohydrate sources was just a carb too many. In the end, I dropped the idea of the dumplings in favour of keeping the soup relatively fat free and light. However, if you want to swap the pasta in favour of dumplings, then go right ahead. I won't argue and neither will your diners, I'm sure!
I hadn't intended for the bite-sized chunks of veggies to cook quite as much as they did. I had in mind that the veggies that were chopped small would ultimately dissolve into the soup and the bite sizes would stay cleanly cut, but tender to the bite. Well, the former happened, but the latter didn't. Ultimately though, I was so pleased with how the soup finished. I think the cleaner cut, just beyond al dente vegetables would have detracted from the comfort food nature of this soup - and you all know what a complete sucker I am for comfort food.
The flavour was super-chickeny, the chicken wasn't dry at all, each vegetable could be discerned in a spoonful (well, except maybe for the onion and garlic that were just part of the general melange) and crusty bread dipped into the broth was just divine. Hubby abstained from dinner that night, but son & heir declared that not only was the soup delicious, but it was most definitely a "do it again" recipe. On you come, autumn. I've got this under control.
CHICKEN & VEGETABLE DINNER SOUP (serves 4-5)
1 litre chicken stock
quarter of a tsp dried thyme
quarter of a tsp dried tarragon
half a tsp dried parsley
half a tsp ground black pepper
2 skinless & boneless chicken breasts
1 skinless chicken leg or 2 skinless chicken thighs
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 carrot, half sliced, half chopped fine
1 leek, halved and cut into 1 inch pieces
2 celery sticks, half of one chopped fine, the remainder cut into pieces
half a butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and cut into bite sized chunks
2 small potatoes, one cut into small chunks, one in bite sized chunks
1 red pepper, cored and cut into bite sized chunks
1 sweetcorn cob's-worth of kernels
1 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 large handfuls of dry macaroni
sea salt, if necessary
2 good handfuls of frozen peas.
Make up the litre of chicken stock (if you're using a cube, use one and a half for extra flavour) in a pan and add the thyme, tarragon, parsley and black pepper to it. Bring to a gentle boil and add the chicken. Simmer gently for 15-20 minutes or until the chicken is just cooked and will shred with two forks.
Remove the chicken from the stock and reserve.
Pour the stock into a separate container and reserve. Rinse out the saucepan, to remove any scum stuck to the sides.
Add the olive oil to the pan and on a moderate heat, add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring regularly, until transparent. Make sure not to colour the onion at all.
Add the carrot, leek, butternut squash, potato, sweetcorn, celery and red pepper along with the reserved stock, rosemary and bay leaf.
Bring back to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the vegetables are just soft.
In the meantime, shred the chicken breasts and the meat from the chicken leg or thighs. Discard the bones.
Add the chicken and dry macaroni to the pot and simmer until the macaroni is done.
A few minutes before the macaroni is cooked, taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary, then add a handful of frozen peas and simmer until the peas are piping hot.
Serve with chunks of crusty bread and fresh butter.