Two summers ago, three generations of my family embarked on a road trip “out east.” We stopped at Niagara Falls (New York), Erie (Pennsylvania) to visit family, Boston (Massachusetts), Cape Cod, Bar Harbor (Maine), Acadia National Park (Maine) and Sandusky (Ohio). Oh, and we all piled into a single vehicle. Why in the world would sane people subject themselves to that much ‘together’ time? My grandmother does not like to fly. We love my grandmother. Therefore, my uncle became the fearless captain and drove us several thousand miles to our destinations and back home.
At each destination, we would stop and wander around the local shops. While we were in Boston, I picked up a cookbook. The North End Italian Cookbook is written by Marguerite DiMino Buonopane and features the kind of slow-cooked Italian food that has comforted Italian Americans for decades. I have made several of her recipes, including Sunday Gravy, that have won over the taste buds of my friends and family. One recipe that has gone on repeat for me is a humble chicken soup with little meatballs or ‘polpettini’, shreds of chicken and fresh greens.
Make this soup over two days. The broth is best made on day 1 (usually Saturday for me) and the soup will quickly come together on day 2 (Sunday). The secret here is the broth. If you are feeling impatient, don’t make this recipe. You will ruin a very good thing. Take your time with the broth!
Chicken Soup with Escarole and Polpettini
Recipe adapted from The North End Italian Cookbook by Marguerite DiMino Buonopane
1 whole chicken (Organic & Free Range)
2 celery stalks, with leaves, halved
2 carrots, peeled and cut in half
4 fresh parsley sprigs
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes, no salt added
20 whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 bunch Escarole or 8-12 oz baby spinach*
1/2 c. water
1 lb. ground beef
2 T freshly grated Romano Cheese
1 tsp. chopped fresh parsley
1/2 lb. small shaped pasta (optional)
Day 1: The Broth
Remove giblets or giblet package from cavity of chicken. Cut off any excess fat around cavity. Place the whole chicken in a large soup pot. Add water to pot, filling until chicken is covered by 2-3″. Place over a burner on low-medium heat. Let the broth slowly come to a simmer. Skim the surface of the water often with a large spoon and discard. Once water stays fairly clean, add celery, carrots, parsley, tomatoes, peppercorns, bay leaf and about 1.5 tsp. sea salt. Return to a just barely bubbling simmer. Cover pot tightly and simmer slowly over low heat, about 2.5 hours.
Using a wire ‘spider,’ scoop out vegetables that have started to float and any accumulated bits at the top of the pot. Discard. Using a ladle, scoop broth out of pot and pour into cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl. Place the bowl in a larger bowl filled with ice to start immediately cooling the broth. Repeat with several bowls. When you get to the bottom inch or two of broth around the chicken, you may elect to stop scooping stock. Carefully remove the chicken with the wire ‘spider’ scoop and transfer to a large plate or pan. The chicken will be falling apart. Pick the meat from the chicken. Reserve 2 cups chicken meat for the soup, risotto, etc.
Once stock has cooled a bit and ice begins to melt, place broth in covered containers in the refrigerator. Let sit in refrigerator several hours to overnight. When ready to use, skim away fat that has solidified at the top of the broth containers. Freeze any broth you do not use for soup for a later use.
Day 2: The Soup
Pour 12-14 cups broth into a large dutch oven or soup pot. Bring to a slow simmer. Meanwhile, combine escarole (or spinach) in a large skillet with 1/2 c. water. Stir until wilted, about 5 minutes. Drain in a colander, squeezing out excess water. Once soup is simmering, stir in wilted greens.
Gently combine the ground beef, Romano cheese, parsley, salt and pepper in a medium bowl until combined. Form into small 1/2″ balls, the size of marbles. Drop into simmering soup, being careful to space them so they do not stick. You may need to add them in two batches. Let simmer 15 minutes, stirring occassionally. Stir in 2 cups reserved shredded chicken (white and/or dark meat). Simmer an additional 15 minutes. While simmering, season to taste with sea salt. * Serve soup topped with freshly grated Romano cheese and a sliced baguette.
* Note: use whichever greens look better at the store or farmer’s market. The escarole looked terrible this weekend, so I used spinach instead.
**Optional: Bring a medium size stockpot filled with 6-8 c. water and 2 tsp. sea salt to a boil. Add 1/2 lb small pasta and cook until al dente. Add to soup just before serving.