(Pardon the excessive typography on the pics in this post. As if I didn’t have enough distractions, I uploaded an iPhone app called Over, which allows you to play around with text and fonts. I couldn’t resist.)
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The stockpots and soup tureens in my house have been getting a workout this winter. It’s not that the weather has been brutal or anything ~ certainly nothing like when I lived in Detroit and considered it a good day when temps climbed “up into the 20s.” And we haven’t seen any real snow since Snowmageddon three years ago.
It’s more about how dreary the days seem right now, with overcast skies, a brittle landscape and damp chilly air. It’s hard to feel motivated, much less inspired. February, I know, is not a good time to read Sylvia Plath or listen to Nick Drake ~ for me, anyway.
But it is a good time of year to make broth.
I credit my daughter with having the initiative to pull out the big stock pot a couple of Saturdays ago and declare that she was going to make pho, the Vietnamese noodle soup. From scratch. As a pho fiend, this is a project I have often thought about tackling but have never followed through on. I’ve always assumed that pho, like sushi, is best eaten at a restaurant. Plus it always seemed like too much work.
My daughter, age 14, has no such culinary inhibitions. She wrote up her grocery list and called the meat department at the supermarket to confirm that they had the 5 pounds of beef marrow bones needed to make the broth. She assembled and simmered the ingredients for the broth on Saturday and finished the soup in time for dinner on Sunday. It featured everything you would expect to find in a “real” bowl of pho: chunks of brisket, thinly shaved eye of round, basil and cilantro and bean sprouts. Here’s a picture I took of it:
Although the chef herself was slightly critical and made notes as to what she would do differently next time, the rest of us thought her pho was delicious and tasted genuine, especially the rich broth, flavored with star anise, ginger, fish sauce, fresh herbs and those beef bones.
Speaking of which, some years ago I started putting beef bones in my homemade chicken broth, something many Italian cooks do. This one step magically transforms it from brodo di pollo (chicken broth) into brodo di carne (meat broth). Brodo di carne is slightly more full-bodied than basic chicken broth, but noticeably lighter than beef broth. Italian cooks use it as a base for delicate broth-and-pasta soups and also for more robust vegetable and grain soups. I add it by the ladleful to risotto, pasta sauces, stews and braises. And it makes a fine chicken noodle soup for winter.
A lot of people use chicken parts ~ backs, necks, feet ~ along with beef bones to make brodo, which is practical and economical. I like to use a whole chicken because then I get to eat the (over)cooked meat, which I have loved since I was a child. Once you strip the meat from the bones (it literally does fall right off), you can shred some of it right into your soup and serve the rest as a second course, drizzled with good olive oil. It’s good comfort food, food that will get you through the doleful days of February.
What comfort foods have you been making this winter?
Brodo di Carne and Chicken Noodle Soup
(Adapted from The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy)
I recommend making the broth one day in advance so that you can refrigerate it and skim the layer of fat off the top before using it in soup or other recipes.
Makes 8 to 10 cups broth, enough for about 6 servings of soup
1 chicken, about 3 1/2 pounds
2 to 4 beef marrow bones, about 1 1/2 pounds
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 3-inch pieces
3 ribs celery, trimmed and cut into 3-inch pieces
2 medium yellow onions, quartered, each quarter stuck with 1 whole clove
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
6 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, including stems (1 cup, lightly packed)
5 quarts water
Kosher or sea salt
Fine egg noodles or broken capellini (angel hair pasta)
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for serving
Put all of the ingredients except the salt in a large stockpot. Bring the broth to a boil over medium-high heat, skimming away any foam that forms on the surface with a skimmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer gently, uncovered, for 1 hour, while skimming the surface from time to time. Simmer for at least another 3 hours, or until the broth is reduced by almost half. Add salt to taste and simmer for another 30 minutes or so, until the broth is richly flavored.
Strain the broth through a colander lined with damp cheesecloth into a clean container. Discard the marrow bones. When the chicken meat is cool enough to handle, remove it from the bones and set aside. Set aside some of the pieces of carrots and celery as well. Refrigerate the strained broth and, in a separate container, the reserved meat and vegetables. Once the broth is thoroughly chilled, skim off and discard the congealed layer of fat on the surface.
To make chicken noodle soup, heat the broth in a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. Add some of the reserved cooked chicken (shredded) and vegetables (sliced). When the soup is boiling, toss in a few handfuls of fine egg noodles or broken capellini (angel hair pasta) ~ about 1 1/2 cups. Cook at a gentle simmer until the noodles are tender. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish each serving with a sprinkle of Parmigiano cheese.