Soup Showdown! Chicken with Curly Pasta

I photographed this recipe in Slovakia, so you'll notice a lot of incomprehensible words on my packaged products below. However, none of the ingredients I used are exclusive to Europe. I first published this on another blog I kept a year ago, but it's still m'm m'm good enough to share.

Though I was raised on canned soup, I've come to detest the stuff over the years. Can after can of mushy veggies, disintegrating noodles, and questionable meat, all soaked in a broth that tastes like nothing but liquefied salt, left me disappointed and disillusioned.

Today, soup is a frequent meal in our home, but with a key difference: It is always homemade. I cook up a big pot of the stuff, which provides a low-cal but filling dinner and then stretches to fill several lunches throughout the week.

Of course, the soup companies are always coming out with new varieties that sound enticing. So why not take a bit of inspiration from their product lines and create some soups truly worth supping on?

And so here it is -- the Soup Showdown!

In one corner, we have a contender from Campbell's, the granddaddy of canned soup companies: Campbell's Select Roasted Chicken with Rotini & Penne Pasta Soup.

A9CA6EBF-9614-47E4-A615-404327359696.jpgRoasted Chicken with Rotini & Penne Pasta Soup

A delightful twist on traditional chicken soup. Our chef created a memorable soup that is chock full of generous pieces of oven-roasted white-meat chicken, chunky-cut vegetables and a combination of whimsical pasta shapes, all simmered in a rich chicken broth aromatic with savory herbs that will soothe your soul and delight your taste buds!

Campbell's entrant offers a mere 100 calories per one cup serving, but watch out -- there's 860 mg of sodium in that same one cup! No wonder the stuff tastes so salty. And to think I used to eat almost the whole can at once.

Checking the ingredients, it's clear that this is your typical chicken noodle soup, albeit with pasta replacing the usual egg noodles. Chicken, celery, carrots, dehydrated onion, garlic, and herbs, broth, seasoning -- pretty simple stuff, and easy to improve upon.

Now, I wouldn't claim that my recipe for this is the ultimate version of chicken soup. I'm not simmering a whole chicken for hours or spending more to buy a bunch of herbs that will rot away in my crisper after I make the soup. I'm certainly not above using a few shortcuts, true, but I also need to think contextually. I'm limited by my time (which I don't want to spend all of in our kitchen), my grocery budget (which is small), and the availability of ingredients at normal grocery stores.

Still, following my guidelines here will definitely result in a soup that's fresher and tastier than anything you can get out of a can. It will take more time and effort upfront, but not any more than you would normally spend on cooking dinner. Plus, this recipe will make a huge batch that, when cooked as a dinner for two, will provide a quick-as-canned and satisfying lunch later on.

Let's get cooking!

I like nonstick spray for many reasons, but right now I'm mostly using it to save a handful of calories in everyday cooking. I coated the bottom of my soup pot with a quick spray before I turned the heat on to low.

Peel each carrot (or scrub them well, if you don't mind the nubbly outsides), trim off the yucky ends, and then cut them in half lengthwise so that you have a flat surface on the vegetable for nice, stable slicing. Next, chop them into half moons that are, oh, somewhere between 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch thick.

Drop all your carrots into the slowly heating pan as you chop them. They'll start to soften and get a little color as you chop the rest of the vegetables, but they won't burn as your heat here is very, very low.

Tip: If things do threaten to get smoky, just add maybe half a cup of water to the pot as needed to keep the veggies from turning to charcoal. A touch of oil to coat the veggies as they cook will also prevent burning, but you'll be adding calories.

I used a nice, big onion in my soup because I enjoy the sweet flavor of cooked onions. But like any of the ingredients, you can adjust the amount as needed to suit your taste. My chicken soup is kind of heavy on the vegetables because they are low-cal and nutritious filler.

Just dice the onion as small as you like. Cut off the tip of the onion, cut the whole thing in half top to bottom, then peel off the outer skin layer. Lay it flat and slice against the grain (but not through the root end -- you want to keep it together for now) to divide the onion into . . . columns. Yeah. And then slice crosswise to produce a dice. Don't worry, the layers come apart as you cook so you don't end up with enormous chunks.

Looks better than dehydrated onion, no? Dump all the chopped bits in the pot and stir.

Take four cleaned and trimmed celery stalks and . . .

. . . magically turn them into eight by slicing them in half lengthwise! Then chop 'em up and throw 'em in the pot.

Mmm . . . mirepoix.

Now I really like garlic, so I used five cloves. The soup doesn't get an overwhelming garlic flavor, but it does add good depth to the broth. If a bunch of little pieces of garlic floating around is going to disturb you, then just smash the cloves, pull off the skins, and dump them straight in without mincing. That way, you can easily pull them out at the end, once they've given their flavoring all.

But me?

I mince. Or sometimes use a garlic press.

Now that everybody's in the soon-to-be bath, I season with salt . . .

. . . and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Use less if you don't want it too spicy. Use more to really clear out that congestion.

Two cubes of this bouillon here make one liter of chicken broth, which is about four cups. Or, if you have chicken base in a jar, use four teaspoons for four cups. I add the chicken base directly to the pot and turn the heat up to medium high.

Next comes one cup of water . . . and a steam bath.

I now get aggressive and scrape up the fond from the bottom of the pan. That's all the browned bits stuck to the bottom that will help make your bouillon taste like real stock. Or your broth from a box, if you're not so cheap as me.

See what a nice, rich color the water is now? Go ahead and add three more cups of water.

Now, when it's all wet like that, I toss in the dried herbs. Dried herbs are fine for anything you plan on cooking for a while. Can you guess what these are?

One teaspoon of dried dill, 1 tablespoon of dried chives, and 2 bay leaves enter the pot. I love dill. Mmm.

Here is the diced chicken I saved from the previous night's stir fry. It's disturbingly similar in color to my hand. I only had one spare breast piece, so I cut it extra small to stretch it. You could always add more chicken if you're not cheap like me.

The chicken will start to turn white as soon as it hits the hot tub. Let it soak in there for about five minutes before you add the macaroni. It may need more time if you used bigger pieces.

We like whole-wheat pasta, but if you don't, well, I'll never know that you used a less virtuous noodle. The nutritional difference for pasta is relatively minor, and I have been known to buy the white stuff.

Add about 1/4-1/3 a pound of fusilli or whatever curly pasta you picked up.

I decided here that one liter of broth wasn't going to cut it for cooking all that pasta. I added two cups more water for the fusilli to drink up. You could use broth instead, but unless you use low-sodium, it will make the soup saltier.

Let the pot boil gently for as long as it takes for the macaroni to turn tender. Then . . .

. . . you'll have this lovely pot of soup here. Mmm!

M'm, m'm, good, you might say.

Chicken with Curly Pasta Soup
Source: Pennies & Pounds
Yield: 7 to 8 one-cup servings

  • Nonstick spray

  • 4 medium-sized carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise, and sliced

  • 1 large onion, diced

  • 4 stalks celery, halved lengthwise and sliced

  • 5 cloves garlic, minced

  • A few shakes of salt

  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper (use less for less spice)

  • 4 cups chicken bouillon, prepared

  • 2 cups water

  • 1 teaspoon dried dill

  • 1 tablespoon dried chives

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 1 chicken breast, cut into a small dice

  • 125 grams fusilli (or other macaroni)

Put a large soup pot or Dutch oven over very low heat. Add the vegetables to the pot as you chop them, stirring with each addition.

Once all the veggies are in the tub, season them with some salt and the 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Give the mix a good stir to distribute the seasonings, then turn up the heat to medium high. Add one cup of the bouillon and scrape the bottom of the pan firmly to bring up all the browned bits (this provides both depth of flavor and a cleaner pan for your significant other to wash!).

Add the rest of the bouillon and the water. To this, stir in the dill, chives, and bay leaves. Let the soup come up to a simmer, then add the chicken pieces. Allow the chicken to poach for about 5 minutes. Turn down the heat if the soup starts to boil rapidly.

Next, stir in the fusilli. Cook this at a gentle boil for as long as the package instructions say, until the pasta is tender. Fish out the bay leaves and serve.

You can shift around the proportions as you see fit. This produces a very chunky soup. If you prefer a thinner soup, add another pint of chicken broth.

Download Chicken with Curly Pasta Soup into MacGourmet.

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