Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Big Soups-Big Flavor!

This post is featured in the Wild Table portion of the current Wild River Review! Thank you, Warren Bobrow!
Conspiracy Theory

Since my first experience with traditional Italian food from the Chianti region, I've been quietly obsessed with the similarities between the recipes of my Southern background and these newly found treasures. There's much more to this than I can cover in one blog post, but to give you a good example, I'll begin with my Grandmother's Chicken and Dumplings.

Everyone thinks their mother, or grandmother had the best recipes for their favorite things. I know that, but in this particular case, I am absolutely sure Mama Nell's Chicken and Dumplings were the best in the whole world. She knew we loved them, so she made them often.

I liked playing with the dough and sneaking a bite of chicken. I wish I'd been paying more attention to exactly what she was doing, because try as I do, mine still aren't as good as hers, but I'm not giving up.

Mama Nell made what she called 'slick' dumplings. She made her dough, using cooled broth from the simmering chicken. And I can still see her bringing the dough together in a big bowl. I wish it had been a dough board, but it was just a regular glass bowl. And I also remember her spreading a piece of newspaper over the counter, taping it down, and rolling her dough on the paper after flouring it. I really don't know why, unless is had to do with drying the noodles a little before dropping them in the simmering broth, or maybe it made clean up easier. Whatever the reason, making slick dumplings is a part of my Southern heritage.

On the other hand, and completely unrelated in my mind, I had a real desire to take pasta classes and learn to make fresh pasta. No matter how many times I saw Mario Batali on the Food Network make the well of flour, and mix the eggs, I didn't make the connection until I actually went to Italy and was standing in the the kitchen of a wonderful Italian 'Mama' and we made pasta together on her kitchen table, and then it hit me: this is just exactly like making slick dumplings with Mama Nell. Well, it wasn't exactly. The ingredients were basically the same, but with different proportions. The kneading and rolling were much more intense making pasta, but it's a very similar process with a very similar result!

Chicken Stew with Pasta or Slick Dumplings
Step 1:
4 lb. whole chicken cut into pieces, including neck and giblets
2 celery stalks cut into large pieces
1 onion, quartered
2 carrots cut, peeled and cut into large pieces
2 sprigs of fresh sage
4 sprigs of fresh parsley
2 tsp. Sea salt
1 tsp. Freshly ground pepper

Place chicken pieces in soup pot and cover by two inches with water. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, cover pot leaving a little opening, and cook until meat is tender, about 30-40 minutes. Remove chicken to bowl and set aside to cool. Discard vegetables, giblets and neck. When chicken is cool enough to handle, remove and discard bones and skin. Roughly shred chicken.

Step 2:
Slick Dumplings* OR 16 oz. dried wide egg noodle pasta

Place chicken broth over medium-high heat. When it boils, reduce heat to simmer and add noodles or dumplings to pot. Cook as directed. (Add extra chicken broth**if needed.)

Step 3:
1 T butter
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
3 T all purpose flour
One-half cup whipping cream

Add butter and olive oil to medium sized pot over medium heat. Add carrots, celery and onions, and saute until vegetables are tender. Add flour, stirring to combine, and cook for 2 minutes while continuing to stir. Add whipping cream, stir, and set aside until ready to add to soup pot.

Step 4:
When noodles are cooked, add shredded chicken and cooked vegetables with whipping cream back to pot. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about five-ten minutes until broth thickens a little.

*Slick Dumplings
2 eggs, beaten
3 oz. Broth, cooled
4 T cooking oil—a little less if using fatty broth
1 tsp. Salt
2 cups all purpose flour

Beat eggs, broth, oil, and salt together. Slowly add flour continuing to stir and mix until dough forms. Knead in bowl a couple of minutes and form smooth ball. Cover and refrigerate for one or two hours.

When ready to cook, remove dough from refrigerator and halve. Roll half the dough on lightly floured surface until thin. Cut into one inch strips, and then cut the strips into 4-5 inch pieces.

Now they are ready to drop into simmering broth. Allow to cook in simmering broth without stirring for about five minutes.

**Chicken Broth

When you roast chicken, save the bones or carcass, along with any pan drippings.
Place in soup pot, cover with water, add roughly chopped vegetables (carrots, onion, celery—or other vegetables you might have, but beware—think ahead about the flavors you might be adding to your broth). Also add any fresh herbs, sage is my favorite for chicken broth. Season with salt and pepper.
Simmer bones, pan drippings, vegetables and herbs for about 40 minutes. Cool and strain. Freeze broth and have it ready whenever you need extra chicken broth.

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