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
- Serves 8-10
boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Memphis style barbecue sauce
yellow or white onions, medium to large
rainbow, mini, sweet bell peppers
red, white, or yellow potatoes, medium-sized
Salt & pepper to taste
Guinness draught beer, bottle or can
- Make your chicken breasts in advance. The quickest and easiest way is to rinse them in cold water, pat dry, then place them in a glass or ceramic dish (oblong, oval or rectangular; should ideally hold about 2 quarts). Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle each breast half with olive oil. Bake at 425 for about 20 minutes, remove from the oven and cover with barbecue sauce. Return to the oven for 10 more minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. When cool enough to handle, cut into pieces. Set aside.
- In a saute pan or skillet, add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. If you have a dutch oven or similar pot, you can create the entire dish in one pot. Turn the stove to medium-low.
- On a cutting board or durable cutting surface, peel and chop 3-6 cloves of garlic (depending on your preference.) Sprinkle with salt and mash with the back of a fork.
- Add the mashed garlic to the olive oil, stirring constantly, adding more oil if necessary. Do not let the garlic brown. When the garlic is heated through, remove the pan from the burner.
- Chop 1-2 medium or large onions. White or yellow are best. Return the pan to the burner and add the chopped onions, stirring continuously. Add more olive oil if necessary. Cook until onions are soft and translucent, but not browned.
- Chop the peppers and add to the onions and garlic. Continue to stir. Watch the heat and the oil. You may need to raise the heat a bit, but be careful not to scorch the garlic. Cook until peppers are softened.
- Chop 6 or more carrots and 3-4 stalks of celery. Choose whole, preferably organic carrots, not baby carrots. Remove the tips and ends from the carrots, but do not peel. Grate away any bad spots. Add the carrots and celery to the veg mixture on the stove. Continue to stir.
- Wash and cube 6-8 white, yellow, or red potatoes. You may peel them if you like, but that is not essential. Add potatoes to the veg mixture. Add salt and pepper and continue to stir.
- Take out a large, 8 quart stock pot and line the bottom with olive oil. If using dutch oven or similar pan, you can skip transferring mixture to stock pan.
- Turn burner to medium heat.
- Once the oil in the stock pot is heated, transfer the veg mixture to stock pot and continue stirring over medium heat. Add the cubed, barbecue chicken.
- Open a can or bottle of Guinness (somewhere between 11 and 15 ounces or so) and pour over veg and chicken mixture. Stir, picking up any bits from the bottom, and cover.
- Check veg, chicken, and Guinness mixture often and stir until it comes to a boil. Reduce heat slightly. Let cook for a few more minutes until the Guinness solution reduces a bit. Stir occasionally.
- Add 64 ounces of chicken stock. You can use homemade or store bought, and there are reduced salt varieties available. Raise the heat slightly, continuing to stir.
- Cover the pot with a lid, but check continuously so it does not boil over. Continue to stir each time you check the soup to see if it is boiling.
- While the soup is coming to a second boil, cut 2 fresh lemons into quarters and squeeze the lemon juice into the broth. Continue to stir.
- Add 3/4 cup of Jasmine rice to the pot. Reduce the heat, stir in the rice, and cover the pot with a lid.
- Let the soup simmer, stirring occasionally, until the rice, potatoes and carrots are done. Be careful not to cook the potatoes and carrots too long or at too high a temperature so that they do not get mushy.
- When soup is ready to be served, remove from the heat. You can add more lemon juice, salt, pepper, or other seasonings to taste. This soup is lovely with a fresh baguette, cornbread or crackers on the side.