As soon as the days start getting shorter and colder, I turn into a hermit and start living on soup and tea. Okay, so maybe my diet is a bit more varied than that, but a majority of it certainly consists of comfort food.
And one of the most comforting things to me is Grandma’s chicken soup. I always make a big batch so I can keep an emergency supply in the freezer, for those days when it feels like I’m coming down with a cold or, well, I’m just plain cold.
Not only is the soup delicious and comforting, but it’s also a great excuse to spend a cold weekend day indoors. “No, I can’t go out in the inhumanely cold and dark weather. I have to make soup.” Really. It works.
My grandmother’s version of chicken soup has a slight Sicilian twist. Don’t be put off by the reddish-orange broth (from the tomato sauce) or the acini di pepe pasta (which can be a challenge to find in Western PA but worth the hunt) in lieu of noodles. Also of note: you simply must use chicken with skin and bone, because this is what adds flavor and gelatin to the broth, making it rich and luscious. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are not an option here. If you’re watching your fat intake, I have a trick for you, but it happens at the end, after the soup has simmered with the skin and bone. Finally, sharp Italian cheese is a must. Some people simmer a Parmesan rind in their soup, but we always just added grated cheese at serving. The sharper, the better: we used an aged canestrato, but since that is extremely difficult—nay, impossible—to find in Western PA, a sharp pecorino Romano or well-aged provolone can be substituted.
Grandma’s Sicilian Chicken Soup
1 whole chicken, cut up, or equal combination of chicken pieces with the skin and bone
Water and/or homemade stock to cover (Don’t bother with store-bought broth and its overly salty yet bland flavor. If that’s all you have, just use water.)
1 tsp. salt (less if you used salted stock)
2 medium onions, trimmed, peeled, and quartered
3 ribs celery, cleaned and cut into three pieces each
4-6 carrots, peeled and cut into two to three pieces each (about the same size as the celery) (These are the final carrots that you will chop and add to your soup before serving. I like lots of carrots. You can cut this back if you prefer fewer carrots in your soup.)
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
Cooked acini di pepe pasta
Grated sharp, hard Italian cheese such as pecorino Romano
Place chicken in a soup pot and cover completely with water, stock, or combination. Bring to a simmer and skim foam off the top. Add salt, vegetables, and tomato sauce and return to a simmer. Simmer gently for at least an hour. Taste for seasoning near the end and add more salt if needed.
Remove chicken and carrots and set aside. Remove celery and onions and discard. Strain and reserve broth. Trim chicken from the bone, shred, and add to strained broth. Chop carrots into disks or half-moons and add to broth.
* At this point, if you are watching your fat intake or just like a lighter soup, refrigerate the soup overnight. The fat will solidify on the top and then can be scraped off with a spoon before you reheat it.
When ready to serve, put a mound of cooked pasta in the bottom of each bowl and ladle soup over top. (If you have leftovers, do not store pasta in the broth, just keep them in two separate containers so the pasta does not get soggy.) Generously sprinkle with cheese.