There aren’t many things that make me happier than a bowl of steaming chicken soup on a cold, blistery day. This is my favorite version of chicken soup, but it is just a guideline. If your supermarket carries packaged soup vegetables, it is usually cheaper than buying all the individual ingredients. The offerings vary, but the soup will be delicious either way - just make sure you have extra carrots, celery and onions on hand. Finally, I like to add some chicken base to the broth to intensify the flavor, but if you don't have any on hand, no worries!
For the base:
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 carrots, cut into chunks
2 celery stalks, cut into chunks
1 yellow onion, skin on, quartered
1 leek, cut into chunks
1 rutabaga, cubed
1 large red potato, cubed
1 small organic chicken, 4 pounds or so
1 bay leaf
1 bunch fresh thyme
1 bunch fresh parsley
1 bunch fresh dill
1 teaspoon peppercorns
For the soup:
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch rounds
4 stalks celery, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 tablespoon chicken base (paste), optional
Ditalini, cooked to al dente
Pecorino cheese, for serving
Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large stockpot. Add the carrots, celery, onion, leek, rutabaga and potato. Cook until the vegetables begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Shimmy the chicken into the vegetables. Add the bay leaf, thyme, parsley, dill and peppercorns. Add cold water to the pot until it rises one-inch above the chicken. Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 2 hours.
Remove the pot from the heat. Use tongs to carefully transfer the cooked chicken to a bowl. Strain the broth into another large pot. Discard the vegetables, herbs and spices. (NOTE: For me chicken soup should be light and brothy, but if you prefer a slightly thicker, heartier soup, puree a cup or two of the vegetables with a little broth using an immersion blender and add to the broth.) Shred the chicken and add to the broth; discard the bones. Add the carrots, celery, onion and chicken base to the broth. Simmer, over medium-low heat until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Season with salt, to taste. (You will need an aggressive amount!)
To serve, scoop some ditalini into a serving bowl, top with the soup and garnish with a generous sprinkle of grated pecorino cheese.
Leftover soup can be stored in tupperware containers. Be sure to leave an inch headroom. Cool completely before freezing up to two months or refrigerate up to 3 days. Warm before serving. Do not freeze with pasta in the soup, as it will become too mushy when it is reheated.