It might seem an odd thing to blog hot soup on the 31st of May, but let’s remember I live in Colorado where we had a foot of snow a week ago, enjoyed a temperature of 40 degrees F when I drank my morning coffee this morning, and are still peering out to see if the thermometer has risen above 60 F this afternoon. (It has not.) The sun is lovely; I’ll give you that. The wind, however, is once more a ________. Let’s just say we call her Mariah and let it go at that. But we Rocky Mountain folk are a long way from the cold food weeks of the year when it’s salad, chilled soup, or sandwich time unless we’re grilling or ordering takeout. That means it’s still hot soup weather for me. (Truth in blogging, you know I’ll make soup anytime.) My Tuscan Chicken Stew Revisited, featured this week, is from my now 8-year old soup book, but somehow never made it on to the blog and needs to be here — if only because it’s a steady visitor in my kitchen and is a delicious easy-fast meal. Over the years of making it for us for dinner, ferrying pots to sick friends, or stirring up a double or triple batch for families experiencing homelessness in our city, it’s morphed in more than one sweet direction. Still often the filling, whole-meal chicken minestrone sort of soup, I’ve sometimes added Italian sausage and other times skipped meat entirely, tipping in extra beans and some tiny pasta at the end. Additional vegetables find their way in when available and it’s not unheard of to see a few croutons perching on top if bread needs using. After Thanksgiving, it’s been made bass-ackwards with leftover shredded turkey stirred in at the end. I’ve even made it with ground chicken, one of my favorite unsung ingredient heroes.
I’m guessing you’ve a simple soup or stew you stir together regularly and for which you often throw the ingredients into the shopping cart…because you needn’t think hard about them. Consider swapping in my Tuscan Chicken Stew (or another soup from More Time if this one isn’t for you) for that well-known and maybe even timeworn dish. Why not add a new meal to your list?! Made with boneless chicken thighs, canned beans, and store-bought chicken broth (unless you’ve got some homemade in your freezer), it comes together quickly and simply with Italian flavors nearly everyone loves. With the exception of the few fresh vegetables involved (the usual suspects of onion, carrot, and garlic along with parsley and spinach), much of the ingredient deck includes pantry items easy to keep on hand in the cupboard and freezer. If by chance you’ve some extra cooked or uncooked vegetables on the counter or in the fridge, you can think about tossing them in right along with everything else. Need larger quantities? Make a double batch; it freezes perfectly for take-to-work lunches or for a no work dinner one night next week or month. I haven’t made this in the slow cooker, but don’t know why it wouldn’t work. Skip the extra water, would be my advice–slow cooker soups and stews don’t reduce and thicken like their stovetop counterparts.
I made this a day ahead for friends coming to learn to play pinochle one afternoon. All I needed to do was heat it up and slice some crusty bread. A light Italian red wine like Montepulciano is exactly what we wanted in our glasses to insure plenty of energy and laughter for the cards. None of us knew how to play, but I bought a book and my smart hub played several hands on line to get the gist of it. We’re learning again together next week and it’s the other couple’s turn to make soup. You don’t need to play pinochle to cook this pot full of goodness, but you do need to try this:
Tuscan Chicken Stew
- 2 links sweet Italian sausage-or instead use 2 more chicken thighs
- Olive oil
- 2 strips thick bacon, diced (or 2 tablespoons olive oil)
- 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 2 large yellow onions, diced
- 3 each: large carrots and celery stalks, trimmed and diced
- 4 large plump cloves of garlic, minced
- ½ cup fresh parsley, minced
- 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, minced or 1 tablespoon dried rosemary crushed between your fingers
- 1 teaspoon each: dried basil and dried oregano
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- 4 boneless skinless chicken thighs cut into 1-inch pieces (use 6 if not making the Italian Sausage)
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- 15-ounce can chopped tomatoes
- 15-ounce can cannellini or Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
- 1-2 cups water—to keep the soup brothy as it cooks
- 1 each: small zucchini and yellow squash, cut into ½-inch pieces
- 1 cup chopped fresh spinach
- ½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for garnish
- COOK SAUSAGE + BACON: In a small skillet, cook the Italian sausage links until browned and done through. Remove, cool, and chop into 1/2-inch pieces. Set aside in a paper towel-lined bowl. Warm an 8 or 10-quart soup pot over medium flame for a minute, drizzle with oil and, when hot, add the diced bacon. Cook, stirring, until the bacon is crispy. Remove cooked bacon to the bowl with the sausage and set aside. Add the crushed red pepper to the pot and let it warm through for a minute. (Or heat olive oil for one minute with crushed red pepper if skipping the bacon.)
- ADD ONIONS, CARROTS AND CELERY to the bacon fat. (If the bacon has not left at least a tablespoon of fat, add a little olive oil.) Cover and cook about 3 minutes; add garlic. Stir in parsley, rosemary, basil, oregano, and season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt and ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Cook another minute or two, stirring.
- SEASON AND COOK THE CHICKEN: Toss the diced chicken in a medium bowl with a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper and tip into the soup pot, pushing vegetables around so the chicken gets to the bottom of the pot. Cook, stirring, for 5-10 minutes; the chicken needn’t be done through, but just have lost its pink color on the outside. Stir in the reserved cooked sausage and bacon.
- POUR IN WINE and stir well to bring up the browned bits at the bottom of the pot. Simmer a few minutes or until most of the wine is absorbed.
- POUR IN THE TOMATOES, DRAINED BEANS, CHICKEN STOCK, AND ONE CUP OF THE WATER. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and let stew simmer until everything is tender and the chicken is cooked through with no pink remaining—about 30 minutes. Add another cup of water if the stew becomes too thick. Taste and adjust seasonings.
- TIP IN THE ZUCCHINI, YELLOW SQUASH, SPINACH, and simmer another 5 minutes or so until squash is tender, and spinach is wilted. Taste and adjust seasonings one last time.
- SERVE HOT with a spoonful of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano on top. Store tightly covered for 3 days in the fridge or for 4-6 months in the freezer.
Why is this called "Tuscan Chicken Stew?" When I wrote the book, I didn't want to call it, "Chicken Minestrone," as it sounded so blah. Plus, anything with white beans sounded like Tuscany! Were there other soups like mine? I had no idea then, but now when I google it, it appears there are plenty of versions. Search around and see what you find. You might find one you like better. I doubt it, though. Chuckle, chuckle.
Change it up: There are a few ideas in the post to get you started, but swapping in your own favorite vegetables or herbs might be first. For instance, instead of fresh summer squashes, use up a cup of cooked, chopped green beans from dinner last night. Fresh spinach might step aside for frozen peas and/or corn. A little cauliflower rice or small pasta no one ate the other day could be stirred in along with the cannellini beans. Use ground turkey instead of chicken thighs or all chicken (skip the sausage), as noted. And, by the way, if you had Italian sausage for another meal, just make a couple of extra links and save it for this one. Try fresh basil in place of parsley or leeks or fennel for part of the onions. Taste, taste, taste and see what YOU think it needs. Add that. Some folks could be happy with more heat. (Add more crushed red pepper or a dash or two of hot sauce.)
Cutting Food Costs/Avoiding Waste (see my graphic above): Score a point for “S”: make soup. Maybe another for “A”: always planning and make a list? Definitely “V”: Value. You’re probably cooking for leftovers and you might have bought a humongous pack of chicken thighs as in “buy in bulk.” “E” for effort as you skipped a restaurant meal. Yay, you!!! And, as always, if there’s a pot of soup cooking, you’re “Eating at home for health, wealth, and happiness.” If you haven’t yet, invest in decent freezer containers and if you know you’re not eating anymore of this meal for several days, go ahead and freeze the soup as soon as it’s cool. Don’t wait and let it get older before you do it. Alternately, share with a neighbor or participate in a Soup Swap.
Interested in helping American homeless families? Check out Family Promise, the organization I cook for several times a year in their IHN (Inter-Faith Hospitality Network) program.
LIFE GOES ON — OR IN THIS CASE, IT DOESN’T:
There’s little to say except our country must change. I’m broken hearted for all the futures gunned down. The love that’s ended. The laughter stopped. Among those kids was likely a future teacher, maybe a doctor, a bunch of good moms and loving dads, perhaps a funny old grandma someone really needed, as well as a rock star, a poet, or great plumber. See their sweet faces. God keep them. God help their families. Think about how this can change. We can’t say it won’t any longer. There’s a way. Let’s look ahead to a safer future.
Thanks for being in the kitchen with me. You’re appreciated as always and keep me humming!
Our grandson graduated from high school this last weekend. As Rhyan is autistic, it was a long haul for everyone — Rhyan himself, his parents, teachers, administrators, etc. Thank to everyone who made it happen. It was a joy to see!