I learned to cook out of necessity. I was 34 when Lisa and I got married, so I would have starved otherwise. During my extended bachelorhood, I found that I enjoyed experimenting with different culinary techniques. It became something of a creative outlet for me. As a biochemist, I learned to enjoy the science of it, too; I’m a huge America’s Test Kitchen geek.
I had also found that women were usually impressed by men who could cook. Let’s be honest here. Before we met, I was single in my early 30s with no prospects. Needless to say, I was getting desperate. That should partially explain why, on our third date, I pretty much moved into Lisa’s kitchen and cooked a full meal from appetizer through dessert. I don’t pretend it totally won her over, but I do think it helped.
During the first year we were married, Lisa came down with a nasty cold. In addition to working full-time, she was also finishing her master’s degree at Iowa State. No time to slow down and nurse a cold. I thought she might appreciate coming home to steaming pot of chicken soup. I searched Epicurious, my favorite recipe source in the days before I discovered America’s Test Kitchen, to find just the right recipe. I selected Italian Chicken Soup, primarily because of the fennel seeds, which are supposed to be good for coughs and respiratory infections.
I knocked off work early to hit the grocery store and get cooking before she got home. I followed the directions painstakingly, wanting to ensure I didn’t mess it up for her. It must have gone well, because that recipe has become a staple in our soup repertoire. A few observations:
- It’s comforting. There’s just something about the smell and taste of chicken soup.
- It’s practical and economical. The soup is not only easy to make, but it’s also a great recipe for using up leftover vegetables.
- It has changed over the years. For example, I add flour to make a roux before adding the chicken broth to thicken it up just a bit. I add sliced baby bella mushrooms. I use cheese tortellini rather than cheese ravioli. I‘ve recently started shredding the chicken rather than dicing it. I’m toying with the idea of adding a tablespoon of tomato paste, too.
- It has grown with us. The recipe is a great use of peppers and zucchini from the garden we started last year.
- It has endured conflict. Lisa and I make it differently. You couldn’t get her to add flour if you put a gun to her head.
One of the reasons I love this soup is that it’s a great analogy for marriage. It has changed over the years, but by making adjustments and working through conflicts, it has continued to improve. Rather than getting old, staying the same, and losing interest, it instead remains ever fresh and new, always satisfying and fulfilling.
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Italian Chicken Soup (Download PDF copy here)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 small onion, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon dried basil
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
8 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
2 medium zucchini, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
8 ounces baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1 9-ounce package fresh or frozen cheese tortellini
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast
Grated Parmesan cheese
Heat oven to 350°F. Bake chicken 20 – 30 minutes, depending upon size of individual breasts, until juices run clear. Cool completely, and shred with two forks.
Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add bell pepper and onion; sauté until vegetables are just tender, about 7 – 10 minutes. Add garlic, basil, fennel seeds, and crushed red pepper and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add flour to make a roux; stir and cook for 3 minutes. Slowly add broth while stirring. Cover pot and simmer for 10 minutes. Add zucchini, carrots, and mushrooms. Cover and simmer until carrots are almost tender, about 5 minutes. Increase heat to high and bring soup to boil. Add tortellini and boil until tender, according to package directions. Reduce heat to simmer. Add chicken and cook just until heated through, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, passing cheese separately.
Serving suggestion: This soup pairs well with cracked black pepper focaccia bread.
Find all posts in the Soup & Stories series here.