Seasonal Variations on Chicken Noodle Soup
My grandmother’s chicken soup was a staple of my childhood. There was nothing too fancy about it, yet somehow her chicken soup was better than anyone’s. Her traditional chicken soup is simply chicken, water, peppercorns, parsnips, carrots, onion, celery, parsley and salt. Yet the capacity for small variations is huge, and she often throws in whatever leftover vegetables she has in the fridge.
As I started to eat seasonally and locally whenever possible I realized my grandmother’s chicken soup recipe wasn’t really appropriate for every season, and I began looking for ways to vary the recipe based on seasonal availability of vegetables. The result is a soup that makes the most of seasonal parameters to use only the freshest ingredients, a recipe that evolves with the seasons, offering distinct variations depending on the time of year.
The following seasonal (for those of us in the northeast) variations are offered as a basic guide. The beauty of this recipe lies not in its specificity but its ambiguity. I often throw in vegetables not listed here. Feel free to experiment with whatever fresh, seasonal vegetables you have lying around.
Late Summer: Carrot, Onion, Celery, Tomato, Garlic (Optional)
At the end of August or beginning of September as the nights begin to cool is the perfect time to debut this soup. With parsnips a month or two from being in season, stick with carrots alone. Adding tomato helps give the dish a distinctly summery feel, and allows you to get rid of a likely surplus of the summer favorite. Some may wish to add garlic as well.
Autumn: Carrot/Parsnip, Onion, Celery, Garlic (Optional)
As parsnips become available (usually around the beginning of October), you can make the soup with both carrots and parsnips, which subtly alters the flavor. (If parsnips still aren’t available stick with just carrots.) This is the time of year when this dish really shines: all of the ingredients traditionally used are in season and it’s the perfect antidote to a chilly autumn evening. Add garlic to boost your immune system as colder weather sets in.
Winter: Parsnip/Carrot, Onion, Potato
Parsnips are in season later than carrots, so faze out carrots from the recipe as fresh, local sources become unavailable. The potatoes make the soup heartier to combat the harsh winter weather. There are less ingredients in the winter version since less vegetables are available, but it’s a great way to make the most of what you have. My grandmother would never make chicken soup without celery, but I’d rather avoid the bland imported celery the supermarkets sell in the winter and spring. If you feel like you can’t do without celery you might want to freeze some in the fall while fresh local celery is still available. (Frozen celery loses its crispness, but that’s less important in a soup. If the texture is unpleasant, you can always use the celery in the broth and then discard it.) Alternatively, you could try using celery salt to get some of that celery flavor.
Spring: Parsnip, Onion, Potato, Garlic Greens or Scapes (when available)
In the spring parsnips are available long before carrots reemerge (in the summer), so stick with just parsnips if possible. Potato may be fazed out as the weather gets warmer, and garlic greens and/or scapes may be added later in the season as they become available. If you have some basic foraging skills, you can also use garlic mustard. Once June rolls around retire this dish until the end of the summer. Again, use frozen celery or celery salt if you just can’t do without it.
1. Empty a bag of noodles and boil in water. Egg noodles are traditionally used, and work best, but any pasta can work. (Angel hair also works well.) Set aside.
2. Add chicken (whole chicken works best; skin, or skim fat from soup periodically), parsley (fresh if available), a fist of peppercorns, and whichever vegetables you are using to a large pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer until vegetables are soft (around 45-60 minutes).
3. Salt to taste, and add more parsley if needed.
4. Serve over noodles (keep noodles separate so they don’t become too soft upon re-heating). If you’re serving children or finicky eaters you may want to separate the broth from the vegetables, so they may select which they want and put them in separately.
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