Saturday, October 07, 2017

Brodetto con Polpetti - Italian Chicken Meatball Soup

When I was a kid, I loved chickarina soup which was garlicky chicken broth with some veggies, greens and acini de pepe or other type of pastina, with chicken meatballs floating in it. I loved it, and so did every other kid I knew.  Fast forward to San Jose, CA, circa 1983 or 1984. I had bought a large, 8 quart pressure cooker, and made chicken stock from trimmings and bones a couple of times a month. My neighbor, Marge (an amazing cook, fellow Italian married to a Syrian) and I were talking about soup over a glass or two of wine.  We both talked about chickarina, and I decided I was going to make it. I  had plenty of homemade chicken stock, so why not?

Over the next couple of years, I made it often, always tweaking it, and eventually settled on this version, which will most likely be made this weekend. I've cleaned out my fridge and freezer, and need to make some chicken broth from carcasses I've saved in the freezer, so brodetto con polpetti it is.

Brodetto con Polpetti

2 quarts flavorful chicken stock
2 smallish zucchini, chunked
2 med carrots, chunked
1 med leek, washed and chunked
4 shallots, or 1 small onion, quartered
1 clove garlic
handful or two of baby spinach
1/4 lb pastena of choice
1 tsp parsley dried, or 1/8 C fresh, minced

Simmer the veggies (except the spinach) in the broth 45 minutes, till very soft. Puree with a hand held blender.  Add the raw polpetti and pastena, and simmer, covered, 10 minutes, till polpetti are cooked through. Check for salt and pepper, stir in the spinach to wilt, and serve with freshly grated parmesan on top.

Chicken Polpetti 
1 lb lean, raw ground chicken (breast is good for this)
1/3 C breadcrumbs (Italian flavored, or make your own)
2 - 3 Tbs freshly grated parmesan
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 egg

Mix all together with your hands till well combined, then use a melon baller to make around 4 dozen marble sized meatballs. They will swell a bit when cooked.

The flavor of the broth is what makes this dish amazing, so if your broth is not super flavorful, feel free to add a little chicken bouillion powder, or just use the best store bought chicken broth, Swanson's. Sometimes I use Israeli couscous, which is a pasta product, in this. Traditionally, the pastena would be round, like acini de pepe, but you can use any tiny, soup pasta that you want, and what you already have hanging around. I pretty much always have some fresh and frozen greens in my house, so I use whatever I've got on hand - it does not have to be spinach.

Most importantly, DO NOT SKIMP ON THE PARMESAN! That ground up stuff in the green shaker can is not parmesan, it is an abomination!  Buy a little chunk of the real thing and grate it as needed, and you will be amazed at how much flavor it gives. It also lasts a very long time in your fridge. Hold onto the hard ends and put that in your soup as well, especially minestrone, for a taste explosion, so don't waste the rind by throwing it away.

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