Soup’s on!

When the weather starts turning colder in the northern Midwest, I start digging out my biggest pots for making soup.

Having a batch of fresh soup simmering on the stove makes the house smell amazing, and the steamy kitchen warms everyone right up. Bake a batch of fresh rolls at the same time, and we’ve got a house that smells like home and a meal ready that satisfies everyone’s need for comfort and deliciousness.

As a grad student, I made soup annually for the grad student committee’s “Bring your own bowl” soup party, usually in October or November, as we all needed just a bit of comfort with finals approaching and cold weather making life a little more challenging. A number of my fellows were vegetarian, so I came up with two soups that remain staples in my pantry: Chicken noodle, for the meat eaters, and cheesy potato, for the non-meat eaters.

Chicken noodle I made the old-fashioned way, which takes a good portion of the day, but yields yummy results. I use a 16-quart stockpot to begin with, and locally sourced, scratch made egg noodles rather than a commercial brand. I can shorten the cooking time for this recipe by using chicken stock as a base, skipping to the after-cooling step, and using boneless chicken breasts as the meat source.

But I do like the way the house smells when the soup simmers all day.

Old-School Chicken Soup

In a 16 quart stockpot, add:

1 whole chicken, giblets removed

3 bay leaves

1 tsp peppercorns

1 Tbsp salt

3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced

4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced

3 stalks celery, cleaned and diced

1 medium green pepper, washed and diced small (including seeds)

1 Tbsp dried sage

1 Tbsp dried thyme

1 Tbsp dried parsley

1 Tbsp dried dill

(Note: You can put all the herbs in a tea strainer or cheesecloth bag, closed tightly, and it will work well for a “clean” soup; just remove at the cooling step. I don’t usually bother, though. Also, these vegetables will stay in the soup until the very end. I’ve seen some recipes that remove and discard the veggies and add fresh after the cooling step, but I think that’s a waste, and I like the texture.)

Fill the pot with cold water. (Using cold ensures that you will extract as much flavor as possible from your ingredients.) Set on the stove and bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer and cover. Forget for at least three hours. (It’s fine to check on it periodically, but don’t go overboard.)

At the three-hour mark, check your soup. Taste the broth with a clean spoon. If it seems weak, remove the lid and simmer for another hour to reduce. (Frankly, the longer it simmers, the more intensely flavored your soup will be.) When it “tastes right” to you, turn off the heat. Remove the chicken to a strainer to cool. Remove the bay leaves, and if you can find, them, the peppercorns. Cool the broth and remove as much of the fat as you can. (If you have time, you can chill it all the way down, and remove the fat in a sheet from the top of the broth. If not, you can siphon the fat off while warm, but it’s messy and not fool proof.)

While the broth is cooling down, start to disassemble the chicken. Remove meat from the skin and bones, and dice up for the pot. When your meat is diced up, and your broth has cooled, with fat removed, add the meat back to the pot, bring back up to a boil, and taste. Adjust your seasonings. This may mean adding more salt and pepper, or even a bullion cube or two, to reach the flavor profile you want. I’ve also added the zest and juice of a lemon at this stage to add a little zip.

When the broth is simmering and tastes just right, add sixteen ounces of fresh wide egg noodles. Cook until done, and serve.

Egg noodles: In recent years, I’ve taken to buying locally sourced fresh or dried egg noodles. I live in a rural area, and it’s fairly easy to find some locally made and for sale in our supermarket or at the farmer’s market. But when I was growing up, we made our own.

For one pot of soup, you need the noodles from this recipe: two cups of all purpose flour, two eggs, and 1 tsp salt. Mix the flour and salt together, make a well in the center, and beat in the eggs. Knead the stiff dough, letting rest periodically to relax the gluten, until smooth. Let rest again, then roll out thin, and cut into strips. Let dry while your soup is simmering.

Cheesy potato soup

This is a smaller batch.

In a large pot, (I like to use my Dutch oven) sauté 1 medium onion, diced; two medium carrots, peeled and diced; 1 stalk celery, diced small; 1 clove of garlic, minced; and two bay leaves in a little olive or canola oil, until most of the vegetables are translucent. (Obviously not the carrots.) Add four medium potatoes, peeled and diced into half-inch cubes. Stir through, then add four quarts of chicken or vegetable stock (or water and bullion cubes).

Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for twenty minutes, until the potatoes are cooked through. Taste and adjust seasonings. It may need salt; potatoes absorb it. A little pepper this stage is good, too.

To a plastic zip bag, add four Tbsp. All-purpose flour and four Tbsp softened butter; seal and knead until blended. Snip the end of the bag off with scissors and pipe the roux right into the soup, stirring constantly. When the soup looks creamy, add two cups of shredded co-jack cheese, slowly, stirring constantly. Finish with a tablespoon or two of fresh chopped dill and serve.

(If you want it to be flat-out vegan, use vegetable stock and omit the cheese.)

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