I stood in line at the grocery last night, alongside everyone in our neighborhood, stocking up on essentials – eggs, a loaf of my favorite grainy bread, chocolate, the makings of a hearty soup – in preparation for the impending blizzard New York's been talking up for the past week. The line stretched as long as the length of the store, but moved quicker than I initially thought it would. I felt the same anxiousness to get home as the people around me, but when I finally stepped outside, it wasn't so cold, so I chose the long route home. I called my dad while I walked. We exchanged the usual updates and he mentioned he'd just finished a great book – a copy for me, already on its way. I made a couple of extra loops around my block, as Dad dove deep into the author's thesis: research is showing that the health of the brain is intrinsically related to the heath of the microbiome, the vast population of organisms that live in our bodies and evolve based on our lifestyle and food choices. Meaning what we eat plays a role in the health of our microbiome, and is connected to how we think and how we feel, and possibly even diseases or other ailments we experience. He talked about the detrimental affects of processed food, sugar and antibiotics on our microbiome, and how he's now looking at what we put in our bodies in a whole new light. Our conversation jumped all over the place, from breastfeeding, to cooking with whole foods, to the importance of probiotics, to the time I tried to grow a kombucha scoby from scratch (spoiler: 'booch farming isn't for me). He did most of the talking, which I didn't mind at all. I've been there, time and time again, and I recognized the excitement in his voice – the same fire I feel, the same rage about the political and economic forces that shape our food choices, and the same desperate desire to make a meaningful impact in my own life and in the lives of others. I felt a twinge of pride and a deep sense of connection. This book illuminated for him so much about the things I'm passionate about, and for me, our conversation underlined a quality that we both share: the need to always be learning, and an excitement about sharing what we've learned with the world.
So here I am, attempting to share a small slice of what I know and love about food. About whole, real, nourishing food. About the joy and strength and comfort I've found in food's power to heal.
The snow did fall on the city after all, and it's still coming down. At the sight of it this morning, I set out to make the warmest, richest, most filling, and most comforting soup that's ever come together in my kitchen, and I feel pretty pleased with where I landed. It's a snow day soup – the kind that needs to sit and simmer for hours, but still only requires two dishes. The broth's inspired by Bon Appetit's Parmesan Broth, one of my favorite broth recipes, and it will make your kitchen smell glorious. Like pure goodness.
A few things worth noting: There is chicken in this recipe, but if you're not into meat, the parmesan broth is so wonderfully fragrant and flavorful that you could go without the chicken and still have a hearty base for the soup – though I'd recommend adding some beans to give the end result a bit more girth. Second, this broth needs about two hours of simmering to get really flavorful, and the longer the better – precisely why this is the perfect snow day soup. Don't let time scare you off, though. The recipe is still fairly simple: you make the broth, while it simmers you cook the chicken and slice the carrots and set them aside. You clean your kitchen or watch Netflix or read the book you can't put down while you wait. And once the broth is nice and full, you strain it, add the noodles, carrots and chicken, and you're done. It's worth the wait. And last: wondering where to get a pound of parmesan rinds? I found mine at my neighborhood market, which has a nice fancy cheese section, but I've also seen that at Whole Foods. Basically, grocery that sells blocks of parmesan has the rinds – you might just have to ask. And they're cheap, like $2 per pound. As you buy blocks of parmesan in the future, save those rinds! They keep well in the freezer, too. Just toss them in a freezer-safe bag or jar with your other food scraps, in preparation to make your next broth.
Chicken Noodle Soup with Parmesan Broth and Greens
Serves 6; Cook time: 2.5 hours.
Broth inspired by Bon Appétit's Parm Broth
For the broth:
> 1 head garlic, half crosswise
>1 onion, quartered
> 1 bunch each of thyme, oregano, rosemary, sage
> 2 bay leaves
> 2 tablespoons olive oil
> 1 tablespoon peppercorns
> 1 cup dry white wine
> 1 lb parmesan rinds
> 12 cups water
For the soup:
> 8 chicken thighs, bone in
> 4 large carrots, thinly sliced
> 3 cups dried bow-tie pasta
> 1 cup basil leaves
> 3 cups arugula
> 1/2 cup bread crumbs, toasted
> 1/2 cup shaved parmesan
> Salt and pepper to taste
1. Prepare the broth: Heat the oil in a large soup pan over high heat. Add the onion, garlic and bay leaves and cook until browned. Add the wine, peppercorns and almost all of the herbs to the pot – you'll want to save a few sprigs of each for the chicken. Bring to a boil and cook until the wine has reduced by half. Add the parmesan rinds and water, reduce to a simmer and cook for 2 hours.
2. Prepare the chicken: Set the oven to 400 degrees. Finely chop the remaining herbs and mix with salt and pepper in a small bowl. Toss the chicken in the herb mixture until evenly seasoned. Place the seasoned chicken in a baking dish, and cook for about 20 minutes, or until the meat registers at 165 degrees. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Once the chicken is cool enough to touch, remove the meat from the bones, and shred it by hand or with a knife. Set aside. Place the bones and skin in the broth both for the remaining cook time.
3. Finish the soup: Strain the broth through a fine sieve, and set aside in a large bowl. Place the sliced carrots in the now-empty broth, and sauté in a bit of oil for 2-3 minutes. Return the broth to the pot, bring to a boil, add the pasta and cook for around 10 minutes, or according to package instructions. Right before the pasta is cooked al dente, add the chicken. Simmer for about 3 minutes.
4. For serving: Ladle the soup into serving bowls. Top with arugula, basil, parmesan and a sprinkle of toasted bread crumbs.