Sunday, February 19, 2012

Last call for chicken soup! Or, going vegetarian for Lent

Chicken and bread soup.
Lent is coming up and I've been putting some thought into what I'd like to do for it. Most people think of Lent as a period of deprivation--fasting on holy days, avoiding meat on Fridays and Ash Wednesday, and denying yourself something you enjoy like chocolate or Facebook. It is those things, or it can be, but it's more than that too.

I won't pretend to be an expert on my faith because I'm certainly not, but I think of Lent as a growing experience rather than a period of denial. Giving things up  can be part of it, but if that's all you focus on you're missing the best part: that by denying yourself a bad habit or an indulgence, you're growing and learning to be a better person. I think it's all too easy to forget that little piece, so for the past several years I've taken a new strategy: I give something up, but also try to add something--meditation, prayer, reading, or something else that helps me focus on the growth part of Lent, and not just the denial.

That said, as you can probably guess from the post title, I'm going vegetarian for Lent. (That is my task of denial; I haven't settled on a "growth" task just yet.) In preparation, I'm giving you my last meat-based recipe for the next couple of weeks.

This chicken and bread soup comes from the Solo Suppers book (with slight modifications). It is supposed to serve one, but I've never been able to finish it in one sitting so I recommend saving half for leftovers. It's deceptively simple, but incredibly delicious. I am sure going to miss this soup.

Chicken and Bread Soup

I estimate the size of a small carrot by lining up the
baby ones with the celery.

1 small onion, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 small carrot (or a handful of baby ones), peeled and diced
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast or 2 tenders, cut into bite-sized pieces
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine (I used Sauvignon Blanc)
2 cups chicken broth (or bouillon and water)
Salt and pepper
Pinch of ground cinnamon
2 slices good bread (I used the Lifehacker ciabatta)
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese


1.  In a wide saucepan melt 2 tablespoons of butter with the olive oil over medium heat. When it's bubbly, add the vegetables and saute about 10 minutes until soft. Add the chicken and saute about five minutes until cooked.

And after.

Add the chicken after the vegetables are cooked. You can also
make this with cooked chicken--add it during the last ten
minutes of simmer time.
2.  Add the wine and cook until it evaporates.
Use the wine to pick up any burned or
caramelized bits stuck to the pan.
3. Add the chicken broth, salt (if needed), pepper, and cinnamon. You might think the cinnamon sounds strange, but trust me--I was skeptical too, but it really makes this dish! Cover the pan and simmer 20-30 minutes, until the chicken is tender.
Add the broth...

...then pour yourself a glass of wine, because
it'll be a while...
...before it looks like this!
4. While the soup is simmering, melt the remaining butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the bread and cook until toasted and pale gold on both sides. Add one slice of bread to the bottom of a ramekin or other oven-safe dish.
I used three pieces because they were small: two for the bottom
and one for the top.
5. When the soup is ready, pour half of it into the ramekin over the bread. Top with the remaining bread and Parmesan cheese. Bake at 300 degrees for 30-60 minutes, depending on how deep your dish is.

...and after.
6. Alternatively, cut your toasted bread into croutons and place them in the bottom of a bowl. Pour the soup over the croutons, top with cheese, and enjoy immediately.

As I've told several people, this soup is life-changing. For something with such simple ingredients, and very little seasoning, it's so full of flavor. The key is definitely the cinnamon--even though it's just a little bit, it adds warmth and accentuates the flavor of the chicken and the vegetables. The bread is the other all-star; it adds texture and bulk, making this a very filling soup.

Farewell, chicken soup. I will miss you.