Saturday, 29 June 2013

For John Steinbeck (1902 - 1968),

“Tom brought him chicken soup until he wanted to kill him. The lore has not died out of the world, and you will still find people who believe that soup will cure any hurt or illness and is no bad thing to have for the funeral either.”
     -- East of Eden

I am one of those people you will still find, who believes that soup is a magical panacea. Got the sniffles? Soup. Scraped your knee? Soup. Tanked a job interview? Soup. Impaled yourself on a spikey fence? May I prescribe a light bouillabaisse. 

Steinbeck's suggestion that soup is good for the funeral as well is ludicrous. Soup is such good medicine that its consumers become immortal. I'll be eating soup at my 613th birthday party while the last remaining atoms of Steinbeck's bones make their final transition to dust. 

But there does come a time, during the winter cold season, when that fortieth bowl of chicken noodle is kinda samey. Considering there's been a nasty cold hanging around my household for the past week, we've had to get creative about ways of reconfiguring that old chicken + pasta + stock combination. Those who know me will be entirely unsurprised that I turned it into a kind of sick person's risotto-minestrone concoction. When in doubt: make it more Italian. That's my motto. 

The noodles become risoni. The broth gets absorbed into the pasta to take this from soup to stew. And the whole dish gets a boost from tomatoes. It's still bland and healthy enough to cure just about any ailment, but this is a nice break from the usual flu food. Bonus: it's quick enough to make that you can crawl back into bed and dig into a novel with minimum disruption. Perhaps that novel will be Steinbeck's magnum opus. If you've got pneumonia, you might just have time to get through it.

Chicken Cure-all

1 onion
3 cloves garlic
3 stalks celery 
1 tbsp olive oil
200g cold cooked chicken
1L chicken stock
1C risoni (aka orzo pasta)
1 can (400g) tomatoes
1/4C tomato paste
Seasonings of choice


Peel and roughly chop the onion, and load it into a food processor. Add the peeled garlic cloves and washed, roughly chopped celery. Puree the lot.  

Warm the oil in a large pan on medium-high. Add the puree and cook until the vicious oniony smell subsides and the mixture is soft - about 5 minutes. Keep stirring periodically so it doesn't brown. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Add the risoni and chicken and simmer until the pasta is cooked, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and paste and keep cooking until most of the liquid is absorbed. Season to taste.

Eat hot with basil, and keep some for the next day - it thickens and gets even yummier after a night in the fridge.  

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