Monday, November 12, 2007

Vegetable Soup with Chicken Meatballs

I realize that no one who’s serious about cooking and eating has anything good to say about boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but I have to speak up on their behalf. Yes, they are usually dry and overcooked. Yes, they are the province of unadventurous eaters and dieters. Yet I think they’ve very useful to have on hand, provided you cook them correctly. Pounded thin and quickly sautéed over high heat, they can stay juicy and make a nice addition to quick stir-fries.

That’s how I usually cook them, but a couple of weeks ago I got the idea of making chicken meatballs and poaching them in chicken stock. These meatballs are very easy to make and cook almost instantly in the simmering stock, which provides some much-needed moisture. I’d hesitate to sauté or simmer them in sauce for, say, spaghetti and meatballs, though—they’ll probably dry out quickly. Best to keep the cooking minimal.


Place 8 oz of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks, into a bowl of a food processor. Grind until the meat is coarsely chopped (don’t overprocess into a smooth paste). Put the meat in a bowl, and add an egg, a couple of tablespoons of bread crumbs, a couple of tablespoons of chopped parsley, a dash each of salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes; mix well with a spoon to combine. Shape the mixture into meatballs that are about 1 inch in diameter; placed on a wax paper-lined plate and chill them in the fridge for a couple of hours.

For the soup: dice a large onion and a couple of carrots. Heat up some olive oil in a soup pot; add the onions and carrots and sauté until the onions are soft and golden, 10 minutes. Add 4 cups fresh spinach (or substitute frozen in the next step) and 2 minced garlic cloves; sauté for a few minutes just until the spinach is wilted and the garlic is aromatic. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add 5 cups of good quality chicken stock, 1. 5 cups cooked cannellini beans and the frozen spinach, if that’s what you’re using. Bring to a boil and add a couple of bay leaves. This would be a good time to toss in a Parmesan cheese rind, if you have one. Turn the heat down and simmer the soup for 10 minutes. Carefully add the chicken meatballs to the soup pot one by one. Simmer until they’re just done, about 4 minutes. Serve the soup immediately, preferably with grated Parmesan.

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