If you ask the Frenchman, he’ll tell you I only ever order one dish when we go out to dinner: chicken. This isn’t true of course, but I will admit that chicken is my backup dish, my reliable mainstay amongst the flotsam and jetsam of an uninspiring menu. Although the French do not believe in the American art of “le doggy bag,” I've assured him many a time that it is a perfectly acceptable practice here. And so it is that I often find myself with half a chicken in the fridge. This soup is the perfect remedy to exactly such a situation. —Cristina Sciarra
about 6 bowls of soup
½ a rotisserie or leftover chicken, skin removed as much as possible
Make the stock: Start by separating the meat from the chicken bones; wrap the meat in plastic and move it to the refrigerator for later use. Put the bones (and other leftover tid bits) into a large pot or Dutch oven.
Wash and chop: 2 leeks, 1 carrot, 1 onion and 1 head of celery; it is totally unimportant how prettily they are chopped. Add everything to the pot. Fill the pot with enough water to cover the bones and the vegetables, and then toss in 2 sprigs of thyme, 1 bay leaf and the peppercorns.
Bring the stock to a boil, and then lower to a simmer. Let it go for 3-4 hours, or until the veg are looking used up and the broth is tasty.
Run the stock through a sieve; reserve the liquid, and throw away all the solids. At this point, you could refrigerate the stock for later use, or make the soup right away.
Make the soup: Clean out and dry the pot. Over medium heat, crisp up the bacon. When it looks crispy, remove it to a paper towel-lined plate, and save it for later.
Mince the remaining onion and 5 cloves of the garlic. Add the garlic to the pot, and mix it into the rendered bacon fat for 1 minute, or until fragrant. Add the onion next, and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes.
Wash, dry and chop the remaining: leek, carrot and celery. Try to cut everything into uniform-ish pieces, so all the veg will cook at an even rate.
Add the carrot and the celery to the pot, and sauté for about 10 minutes. Add the leek, and sauté another 5 minutes or so.
Meanwhile, peel and slice the potato. After the leek has been added, toss the potato slices into the pot, along with the can of (rinsed) chickpeas. (Don’t worry about how thinly the potato is sliced; it should break down a bit during cooking, and will thicken the soup.)
Add the chicken stock to the pot, as well as the remaining thyme and bay leaf. Bring the soup to a boil, and then lower the heat to a simmer; let the soup cook gently for about 1 hour.
When you think its done, throw away the thyme sprig and the bay leaf. Add the orzo, and let it cook for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, take the chicken meat from the refrigerator and shred it into bite-sized pieces. Stir the chicken into the soup, and let it warm up. Stir in the basil, until wilted.
Just before you are read to eat, toast however much bread you like. Rub each slice down with the remaining garlic, and then butter generously.
Cut each piece of toast into batons, for dipping into the soup. Top each bowl of soup with the crispy bacon and a crack of black pepper. Serve with toast and a hunk of pecorino cheese.
Cristina is a writer, cook, and day job real estate developer. She studied literature, holds an MFA in Fiction Writing, and completed the Basic Cuisine course at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. She lives in Jersey City with her husband--a Frenchman she met in Spain--and their sweet black cat, Minou. Follow her writings, recipes, publications and photography at theroamingkitchen.com.