Italian cooking is well known for turning everyday ingredients into a culinary masterpiece. That is the essence of "cucina povera," or peasant (literally "poor") cuisine. While the following recipe is not specifically Italian, It is made with that same Italian peasant spirit of making the most of what you have. The other day I was home with a sick child. Unable to go to the store for my usual ingredients for a homemade soup, I decided to improvise with what I had on hand. I typically make chicken soup with a whole chicken, letting the fats and the oils create a lovely broth. However, all I had was leftover, boneless, chicken breasts cooked in barbecue sauce, some veg, a couple of containers of Chicken Stock, a cup of Jasmine Rice and a bottle of Guinness beer. I decided that in order to compensate for the loss of the whole chicken, I'd need to give the veg some extra attention. I sauteed the following in succession (and in olive oil): garlic cloves that had been mashed in salt, then onions, mini sweet peppers, sliced carrots, celery, and potatoes. I then added the barbecued chicken breasts, still with the sauce clinging to it. I had to add a bit more oil from time to time and stir regularly, and I still managed to get some veg stuck to the bottom of the pan. That's where the Guinness comes in. My favorite tool for deglazing a pan for beef stew, I had never added Guinness to a chicken soup...until now. I let it all come to a boil and then cook down a bit before I added the chicken stock and the juice of 2 fresh lemons. I let that come to a second boil and then added the jasmine rice before I covered it and let it simmer until the potatoes and carrots were cooked through.
It was, without a doubt, the tastiest chicken soup I've ever had. My family agreed! You might think the lemon would get lost in the melange of tastes, but it gave the broth a mild zing that we really enjoyed.
I've left the precise measurement of the olive oil and seasoning to your needs and tastes, or as we say in Italian cooking, "Quanto basta!"
You can also substitute another variety of rice, or omit it altogether if that is your preference. Another alternative is to omit the rice and potatoes altogether and add tortellini to the simmering soup in the penultimate step.
Buon appetito! —Pia Bertucci