It's A Soup and A Salad
it's the same thing
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I’m currently in a house I bought last year, three-ish hours outside the city. I’m here finishing a cookbook, which takes a lot of time and focus, two things I am consistently short on. There are renovations happening in this house. Slowly, all at once, not at all, slowly, and then so on and so forth. It’s what happens when you’re doing it for the first time, on a budget, in a pandemic, etc. I would say I’m learning patience slowly, all at once, not at all, slowly, and then so on and so forth.
Right now, the kitchen is gone. I have a sink and a table. I have one small semi-functioning dorm room-sized fridge that mostly freezes rather than refrigerates, I have one induction burner. I’ve got skillets and pots that work on the one induction burner. I have a cutting board, 3 mixing bowls, and a few knives. I have a water kettle and a Chemex for my coffee. I do not have an oven, I do not have a toaster, I do not have a toaster oven.
It’s not ideal, but it’s temporary, and I’ve made some pretty good food out of this little setup. Oh, sorry, by food, I mean soup. I’ve made some pretty good soup.
This desolate space has fewer walls than there were 4 weeks ago, space heaters full blast, no counter space, and significantly fewer tools than I’m used to. At its best, it feels very “Donald Judd,” if everything he did was an accident; At its worst, it’s like camping without the nature part. Here in this kitchen, I have really become Alison Roman: Unplugged. No dill? Fuck it. Brothy beans 94 ways? Let’s go. Think I can make dinner for four nights with one chicken? Make it five. Is a half cup of old broth, some leftover kielbasa, and lots of chopped parsley stem a soup? It’s already 9:45 and I’m starving, so tonight it is. I waste nothing, I eat everything. I am resourceful, I am scrappy but trust me, the things coming out of this kitchen these days are not always worth writing about. To be clear, this has more to do with my current workload than the kitchen setup, where I believe anyone could make something beautiful every day if they were blessed with time and ambition.
But I’m not, so I make soup. Some ugly ones, some okay-tasting ones, some excellent ones. I like soup because it really only requires my attention on the front end for a small amount of time, then left to do its thing on my little burner while I “do my thing*” in the next room. I’ve made pozole, brothy beans, chicken broth, chicken noodle with soy and scallion, split pea, chicken with celery and parmesan, ginger with soft tofu, and spicy pork noodle with broccoli rabe (a personal favorite). I’ve eaten all of these at least twice since I have never learned (nor do I care to learn) how to make soup for one. I have been eating a lot of soup.
*stare at a google doc for 11 hours a day.
Other things I have been eating in this strange and weird setup during my “rustic writing retreat”: pickles. At least 3 jars (farmers market purchased, Vlasic dill, and Bubbies). Tuna salad (also smoked salmon salad, mackerel salad, smoked trout salad). Lots of celery sticks (for eating with the tuna salad). Bottles of ginger kombucha. So much popcorn. Handfuls of Nilla Wafers I found in the back of the pantry. String cheese. Old rice crackers. Tiny cups of oatmeal with a pat of butter, maple syrup and flaky salt. Regular meals do not exist, only hunger pangs ignored and then irresponsibly satisfied. Do not try this yourself, I do not recommend this style of eating.
I’m hesitant to share yet another soup recipe, lest you think this is a soup blog. But this newsletter has always been an honest in-real-time reflection of what I’m eating right now, and the reality is…I’m just eating a lot of soup. I like soup so much that despite multiple trips to a grocery store, I still end up leaving with ingredients to only make more soup. So, today, soup it is. Probably tomorrow, too. Soup forever!
This soup in particular is a chicken soup, made in the grand tradition of using one chicken to feed yourself for several days. It’s got wilted escarole (the escarole I bought to make a salad partially froze in the freezer and wasn’t good for much other than wilting— a happy accident), grated parmesan cheese and more lemon than the average soup.
Someone asked if it was Caesar salad soup, which was far from my intent, but then I went and added anchovies (they’re optional) and an egg yolk for creaminess and body (also optional), so maybe it is? The soupification of a salad isn’t necessarily my bag, but at any rate, it did get me thinking about salad and inspire me to write down my chicken Caesar salad recipe, something I’ve never done. It will go out tomorrow to paid subscribers. A soup and a salad, a soup that is a salad, a salad that is a soup.
Chicken Soup with Escarole, Lemon and Parmesan
Escarole is my chosen roughage for this soup (and the salad that follows), but other leafy greens like broccoli rabe, kale, or swiss chard would be a nice stand-in, just be prepared for more bitterness and less delicateness. This is one occasion where I wouldn’t recommend Better Than Bouillion, since so much of the flavor and viscosity of the soup depends on honest-to-god chicken broth.
It’s always annoying to make a recipe for chicken soup because it seems like a whole production. You’ve got to make the broth and pick the meat and it’s just *a whole thing.* Except that’s rarely the way I make chicken soup. Usually, I start with frozen chicken broth I made weeks (or months) ago, then add a boneless, skinless breast to poach in the broth for 12–15 minutes (thighs would work, too). This makes “chicken soup with pieces of chicken” possible without the whole bird song and dance (which I love, just don’t always have the time for). I recommend this method.
As for the inclusion of Parmesan, this is not Parmesan broth, this is chicken broth with Parmesan melted into it. To avoid egregious clumping, I like to coarsely grate it (counterintuitive) and whisk until it’s melted, giving it time (it will not happen quickly). Will some of the Parmesan clump and maybe stick to your spoon as the soup cools when you eat it? Maybe. Do I mind? I don’t.
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced or finely chopped
4 anchovy fillets or 1 teaspoon fish sauce, optional
Lots of cracked black pepper and/or crushed red chili flake
6 cups chicken broth (preferably made from a chicken– see here)
½ cup parmesan cheese, coarsely grated* (plus more for the top)
½ head escarole, torn into large pieces
1 cup picked chicken meat, if you’ve got it
1 lemon, for juicing
¼ thinly sliced onion (yellow, white, or red)
2 large egg yolks, optional
*I like to use a box grater here, not a microplane
1. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally until it starts to soften and toast a little, 3–4 minutes. Add anchovies and crushed red pepper flakes, if using. Cook, stirring occasionally until the anchovies are melted into the oil, a minute or so.
2. Add chicken broth and parmesan and bring to a simmer. Whisk until the parmesan is melted into the broth (it should not clump, it should stay pretty smooth). Add escarole and chicken (if using) and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir until the chicken is warmed through and the escarole is wilted, a few minutes. Remove from heat and squeeze the whole lemon into the pot.
3. Divide among bowls and top with onion, one egg yolk (if using), more parmesan, and black pepper.