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Joni Woolf: More soups for the flu season

Back in January (can you believe it’s already gone?) we wrote about soup, warming our spirits and bodies in the cold days of winter. It is not very cold now, but it is the heart of the flu season, and nothing soothes an aching body like soup. For years we have heard of the benefits of chicken soup — for the body and the soul, so when someone is under the weather, we often rush in with the latest incarnation of that mothers’ specialty — chicken soup. Recently my daughter was a bit low with those winter miseries, so I quickly made some chicken soup. Mine was simple and easy: I cooked six boneless, skinless chicken thighs in 2 quarts of water, with a chopped onion — for about an hour. Meanwhile, I sauted chopped carrots, celery, and onions in a tablespoon of olive oil and set it aside. When the chicken was done, and had cooled a bit, I tore it apart, put it back in the pot with the broth, added the vegetables and two cups of wide egg noodles, and in about 15 minutes had a reasonable facsimile of chicken soup — which fed her for a day. This was chicken soup at its simplest: anyone can do it.
For a souped-up version (forgive the pun) of chicken soup, I went to that great cookbook, Fresh Tastes From a Well Seasoned Kitchen, Lee Clayton Roper’s recent cookbook that is becoming a classic, and found the following two recipes — one is a fine chicken soup, and the other — well, you’ll see.

Chinese Chicken Noodle Soup
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon sesame oil (not dark or toasted)
¾ cup chopped green onions
½ cup (about 1 stalk) chopped celery
½ cup chopped red pepper
½ cup chopped mushrooms, preferably shitake
1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger
7 cups chicken stock or broth
12 ounces (about 2 breast halves) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, chopped into bite-size pieces
1 (3.75 to 4 oz.) package cellophane, glass or bean thread noodles
¾ cup bean sprouts, cut into ¾ inch pieces
1 cup shredded baby spinach
1 cup shredded Napa cabbage
¼ cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
In a large stockpot, melt butter with sesame oil over medium high heat, stirring until blended. Stir in the onion, celery, bell pepper, mushrooms, and ginger. Cook, stirring constantly, 7 to 8 minutes or just until softened. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Stir in chopped chicken; reduce heat to simmer, and cook about 10 minutes, or until chicken is done. Stir in noodles, sprouts, spinach, and cabbage and simmer 4 to 5 minutes or until noodles are tender. Stir in soy sauce and lemon juice; season to taste with salt and pepper. Cut noodles into smaller pieces using kitchen shears, if desired. Serve hot. (Soup can be made up to 2 days in advance and refrigerated.)

While I was looking for a finer version of chicken soup than my own, I came across another soup recipe that is filled with all the things I love. I think you will love it, too.

Italian Sausage, Spinach and Orzo Soup
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound uncooked Italian sausage, casing removed if necessary
2 cups chopped onion
½ to 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2/3 cup dry white wine
7 cups chicken broth or stock
2 cups seeded and diced fresh tomatoes (or 1 16-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained)
1 cup orzo pasta
5 cups packed shredded fresh baby spinach
¾ to 1 cup (3 to 4ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
In a large stock-pot, heat oil over medium high heat. Add the sausage and saute until browned, breaking up meat with a spatula. Drain and discard oil. Stir in onion, garlic, Italian seasoning, and red pepper flakes and cook 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the wine. Reduce heat to low and simmer, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until wine is almost evaporated. Stir in the chicken broth, tomatoes, and orzo. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 to 12 minutes or until pasta is cooked. Stir in spinach and cook 3 to 5 minutes, or until wilted. Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Winter will be over soon, and we’ll begin watching for the planting of corn and tomatoes and peas. The peach trees will blossom and then bear fruit, and figs will pop up all over that dormant tree. There’s nothing quite like a Georgia summer. In the meantime, soothe body and soul with one of these fine soups so you will be hale and hearty when the summer harvest arrives. It is its own reward.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at indigojoni@windstream.net

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