Cold Weather Comfort

Published October, 2008

These grandparents prepare chicken soup with a twist

With golden autumn days comes the kind of chill that chicken soup banishes best. A comforting tradition across cultures, chicken soup is universally considered a mother’s (and grandmother’s) secret weapon against the sniffles. But these grandparents know that broth warms the body and the heart, alike, and even the steam wafting off a big pot of soup has a life of its own, wrapping its magic around like a soft, down blanket.

Pennsylvania Dutch-Meets-Italian Chicken Soup
Flavorful chicken soup brimming with vegetables and homemade egg noodles

Melanie Barnard, 63, swears by her nana’s chicken soup. "My Pennsylvania Dutch grandma, Cecelia Sheppard Gilli, made the egg noodles from scratch, and my Sicilian nana, Stephanie Faso, grew a lot of herbs. This recipe, though never cooked together by Grandma and Nana, is a coalition that comes from my mom," she says. The recipe is based on a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch chicken soup, but Italian herbs, Parmesan cheese, and vegetables have been added for good measure.

The recipe has not changed much from her mother’s original recipe and she claims, like many proud owners of heirloom chicken soup recipes, that the preparation is not really a recipe, but something thrown together based on "whatever veggies I’ve got," such as parsnips, peppers or zucchini. The soup is a great example of everyday comfort food from Barnard’s childhood, a soup she still serves to keep the winter sniffles at bay, with warm Pennsylvania Dutch biscuits or a crusty loaf of Italian bread.

1 (3 to 3 1/2 pound) chicken, cut up with back and neck reserved
10 cups cold water
1 onion, quartered
1 carrot, peeled and cut into chunks, plus 2 carrots, thinly sliced
1 celery rib, cut into chunks
1/2 small fennel bulb, cut into chunks
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley stems, sprigs reserved
3 whole peppercorns
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 bay leaf, broken in half
4 cups high-quality canned homemade chicken broth or stock
8 ounces fresh homemade or dried commercial egg noodles (see recipe below)
1/2 cup frozen green peas, thawed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for the table

1. Trim and discard the excess fat from the chicken. Place all the chicken parts, including back and neck, in a large kettle or stockpot. Add the water, onion, carrot, celery, fennel, and parsley stems, peppercorns, oregano, thyme, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, skimming off any foam that rises to the top, then reduce the heat and simmer until the chicken is tender, 40 to 45 minutes.
2. With tongs, remove the chicken from the broth and set aside on a plate to cool. When cool enough to handle, remove meat from the chicken bones and reserve. Return the bones only to the broth and simmer 20 minutes more. Strain the broth, discarding the solids, and return the broth to the pot.
3. Add the canned broth to the pot and bring to a boil. Add the sliced carrots and dried pasta if using, and cook 2 minutes. Add the peas and fresh pasta, if using, and cook another 3 to 4 minutes until the pasta is cooked. Add the chicken meat and basil, and parsley sprigs bring to a simmer. Stir in the cheese and season with salt and pepper.
4. Serve in large bowls and pass additional cheese to stir into the soup.

Yield: Serves 6.

For the egg noodles:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 eggs
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons water
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Place all ingredients in a food processor and process for about 1 minute to mix and knead the dough, or place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix and knead by hand for about 10 minutes.
2. Place the dough on a floured surface and let rest, covered with a towel, for 10 minutes
3. Divide the dough in half. Roll each half as thinly as possible into a roughly 14-inch square. Lightly flour the surface of the square, then roll loosely like a jelly roll. Cut each roll into 1/4- to 1/2-inch slices. Shake the slices open, then cut the mound of pasta slices into roughly 2-inch lengths. Spread out to dry for at least 15 minutes or up to 2 hours before using.

Yield: Serves 6.

Judy Solomon's Low-Fat Couscous Chicken Soup
Judy Solomon's healthful chicken soup with a surprising twist of couscous

In our Feature Cold Weather Comfort, we focus on chicken soup. Like many grandmothers, Judy Solomon, 66, of Roslyn, N.Y., follows her instincts when making chicken soup. She allows her nose and taste buds to tell her what’s needed in the pot to ensure the broth is "clean, clear, and flavorful," representing her cooking aesthetic of healthy, simple, clean food.

Unlike her own grandmother's, Solomon's soup is low in schmaltz (chicken fat) and she doesn’t "have a lot of extra stuff floating around." For some substance and texture, she sometimes serves the soup with the carrots and parsnips she uses to cook the broth.

"My recipe isn’t necessarily better, but it is more modern, more health-conscious," says the 66-year-old grandmother of four. Solomon removes most of the skin from the whole bird prior to cooking "so there is less fat to skim at the end” as well as making use of leeks for subtle onion flavor.

She also often adds couscous to the finished product instead of rice or noodles, and prefers it to the matzo ball, a Jewish holiday favorite, which she finds “too heavy and filling." She says, "Couscous has more texture than noodles. This addition didn’t come from anywhere in particular, I just like it."

3 1/2 pound whole chicken, cut into quarters, most of the skin removed (optional), thoroughly rinsed
3 leeks, white and pale green parts only, cut into 3-inch pieces
2 stalks celery, including leafy tops, cut into 3-inch pieces
4 parsnips, peeled
4 carrots, peeled
3 cloves garlic
Large bunch of parsley
Large bunch of dill
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut the chicken into quarters (or eighths if preferred), removing most of the skin (optional — some people like to leave the skin for flavor). In an eight-quart pot, add the chicken pieces and fill the pot three-quarters to the top with cold water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, for a half hour, skimming impurities as needed.
2. Add leeks, celery, carrots, parsnips, and garlic. Partially cover and simmer until the chicken and vegetables are tender, about 1 hour. Add dill and parsley to the soup and simmer for 10 minutes.
3. Remove the pot from the heat and let stand for 1 hour. Strain the soup into a clean pot. Reserve a few pieces of carrot and parsnip to serve and press the remaining cooked vegetables, through a strainer to release the rest of the broth into the soup. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Yield: Serves 6.