Lekker: Italian Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup

Ya know, I really didn't expect to come home from a blissful vacation on the beaches of Florida this past weekend to all sorts of upheaval at work, a government shutdown, and..bronchitis. What is UP with everything?! GTFO, moon cycles or universe or polar tides or whatever the hell else is causing all of this nonsense.

Protip: Wine helps. I recommend Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc. TRUST ME, I am a pro at this by now. And if you're furloughed, you know that means some good ol' Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill baby!

So, given that I have absolutely zero regard for my personal health (apparently) what was a cold last week has turned into a wonderfully throaty cough/bronchitis. Hey, I gave it a try with vitamin C and echinacea and fluids and zinc and this that and the other thing, and it didn't work, so...wine. Also, soup! Yes, fall is sort of here (it's still 87 degrees but the leaves are turning orange so I don't know WHAT is going on. Goes back to that crazy moon/universe/tide thing, I think, although if you believe my housemate it's BECAUSE OBAMA!) so it's soup season. Combined with being sick? Here's today's Lekker Recipe: Italian Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup.

I was actually inspired to create this by my best friend Lion, who is also, entirely coincidentally, sick with the same thing. I turn into a full-on mother hen when people I care about are sick, so I wondered about what I would make for him. What would make him feel better, and comforted and satisfied, but still be healthful enough to fight the illness, and perhaps even pay homage to his heritage?

Italian Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup, a recipe dreamed up entirely by me--and believe me, it's been a loooong time since I've been so inspired. 

P.S. As good as my motives may have been, I'm actually totally horrible because he didn't get any of this stuff. The post office did not take kindly to my request to ship a quart of soup 1000 miles. Jerks.  Sorry, Lion Man. Next time.

Italian Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup
makes a metric shit ton--I obviously I thought I was going to be sick for a long time. I ate a bowl for dinner, froze half, and still have two more servings left for lunch tomorrow. It freezes great, so you may as well make the whole batch, but you can halve it too.

What You Need
1 rotisserie chicken (just the 2 breasts really unless you want more) or ~2 chicken breasts, otherwise cooked and shredded (I made my life easy and picked up a pre-cooked delicious chicken from the store because I hate cooking whole chicken breasts; plus, I get to eat the wings and rip off the skin and devour that as soon as I get home as a pre-cooking snack and that is LITERALLY the best part) 
1 leek, white and light green parts only, washed thoroughly (they have a lot of grit in them, so slice it off at the part where it gets tough and dark green and wash the bottom half well)
1 14.5 ounce can artichoke hearts in water (if they come already quartered, just slice them up a bit further nicely; if they're whole, then quarter and slice)
3 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
6-8 cups chicken broth or stock (I use the Knorr Homestyle Stock jelly-type things since I think they taste the best) 
3 large handfuls chopped Swiss chard (this stuff is great, I love it! It's like the silky older cousin to spinach; bitter when raw but utterly smooth and delicious in soups. I used the Kaleidoscope Chard from Trader Joe's here which is pre-washed and cut, but if you can find regular fresh raw chard that's great too. Just wash the leaves thoroughly, fold each leaf in half and slice out the tough inner stem, and slice the leaves into thin ribbons.)
2 large handfuls fresh baby spinach
1/2  bunch parsley, washed and chopped
1/2 cup dry orzo (Don't know orzo? You're missing out. It's a pasta shaped like an extra-large grain of rice with a GREAT mouthfeel used in Greek and Italian cooking. Mouthfeel means how it feels in your mouth. Giggity.)
olive oil, for frying
juice & zest of 1 lemon

I know it seems like a lot, but this is really super easy and hardly takes 30 minutes to put together. Ready? OK!

What You Do
1. In a small pot over medium-high heat, get some water boiling with salt so you can cook the orzo. I always cook pasta separate from the soup it's going into because I don't like the starch it releases during cooking to muddy up the broth of my soup. You want the orzo to be just slightly undercooked, because it's going to finish in the soup. I cook mine for 7 minutes flat, drain, and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process and wash off excess starch.

2. While the water is boiling, shred up your chicken breasts with your fingers, or two forks if you want to pretend to be civilized (you're not fooling anyone), and slice up your leeks and artichokes as well. Leeks are like onions, but more complex in flavour and nutrition. Mince or crush the garlic, too.

3. In a large stockpot over medium heat, drizzle in some olive oil and throw the leeks and artichokes in to get them cooking with a bit of freshly ground black pepper. I saute them for about 5 minutes, just to get a bit of browning going on. Toss in the garlic and Italian seasoning and cook for 2 minutes more. Then add your stock and bring to a simmer.

4. Now's where it gets really easy! (Was it really that hard thus far? Nah, just a longer ingredient list.) Throw in your shredded chicken and let it simmer all together for 5 minutes. The spinach, chard and parsley take hardly any time at all, which is why you want to throw them in...now. Add the orzo now too, so it can finish cooking.  Now's the time to adjust the broth, adding a little more if you like your soups more watery like I do. Cook for about 5-6 more minutes.

5. Turn the heat off and add the zest* of one lemon and the juice of said lemon (through a strainer, if you want to avoid pulp and seeds in your soup). Taste and add salt if necessary. (A note: the chicken stock is probably pretty salty. However, I like salty things, and when I'm sick I tend to err on the side of more salt because it makes me drink more, which is important when you're sick. Capeche? It's why they give people in hospital that terribly salty chicken broth--to get them to absorb more fluids.) I always like to stir in a good glug or three of olive oil to finish a soup, too.

Done! Molto Italiano, no? Ah, io penso di essere stato un Mama italiano in un'altra vita!

Hope this banishes your sniffles, coughs and blues as much as it did mine. Ciao, bello. 

*I have a mircofine zester that I use for such purposes. If you don't have one, you can get away with the tiniest holes on a cheese grater as long as you don't get too much of the white pith mixed in there with the yellow skin, because that shit's bitter.

Posted on October 4, 2013 .