I have a confession to make. I’m an autumn soup person. I love to make soups in the autumn, so here I am, in Florence, Italy, and it’s autumn and I’m ready to make soups. Ok, it’s still in the high 70s, low 80s here every day, but it is autumn. I am often my most creative in experimenting with recipes in autumn. The first day of autumn, I went to the Conad market (the closest thing to a supermarket in my region of Florence, Italy) I purchased a pack of fresh chicken, specifically the keel bones. If you are a white meat chicken lover, the keel bones are for you. The meat is cut from the sternum along the bones, the fleshiest part of the chicken breasts. We used to charge extra for keel bones at a restaurant I worked at in high school. I, personally, prefer the lightness of breast meat for my soups and stews. I’ll give some ideas below for modifying this for other tastes. One of the things I like about the Conad grocery stores is that they package different kinds of vegetables together in small packages that are creative enough to inspire me to try new things. Plus, I’m only cooking for myself, so if it’s bad, no one else has to know. I saw a beautiful package of fresh herbs with sage, rosemary, bay leaves, and a peperoncino pepper (laurel chili pepper). I have to confess, I typically find sage too strong and have never cooked with rosemary. I have a thing about hot peppers. Generally, I don’t like them. They’re just too strong for me. But this package was so lovely, I couldn’t resist. And, dear reader, you remember how deliciously the butter and sage with fresh grated parmesan on the homemade cheese ravioli turned out! I was ready to experiment.
After I picked up the chicken, I decided I wanted to make a stew. I knew I wanted a lot of fresh vegetables. They are so good here. I went back to the section of the market with packs of fresh vegetables. I purchased a pack with a carrot, a zucchini, an onion, 5 small potatoes, a hunk of cabbage, a leek, some greens I couldn’t identify (they were very bitter for my taste, so I ultimately decided not to use them), parsley and tomatoes (I held the tomatoes for another day.). One key element of my cooking here is garlic cloves soaked in olive oil, red pepper and oregano. I use it constantly. That and some salt and black pepper and I was ready to experiment. I washed the chicken thoroughly, patted it dry and laid it on a bed of olive oil, garlic, red pepper and salt in the bottom of the pan to sauté. I rubbed it with more olive oil, salt and pepper and topped it with more chopped garlic and chopped parsley. I diced half the onion and put it on top as well. Then I tackled the vegetables. I decided to do a one pot rustic version for this stew. I cut up the other half of the onion as the chicken sautéed, 2/3rds of an inch of the leek (I’ve not used leeks before, so didn’t know how strong the flavor was or what to expect – it was about 1 inch around), I used 2/3rds of the carrot (unpeeled), and 2 stalks of celery (including the leaves). I diced the zucchini (unpeeled) and cut the cabbage into small strips. I cut the potatoes (unpeeled) in eighths and put everything into the pot. I added two bay leaves, two sprigs of Rosemary, two cut up sage leaves, more parsley, the last of my garlic and Himalyan salt (it was in my cupboard). Last, I added ¼ of my 3 inch long peperoncino (I approached this one with caution. I cut a small piece off and held it to my tongue. It was HOT! Confession: I’ve never actually used fresh, hot peppers before. Historically anything hotter than bell peppers or black pepper make it hard for me to breathe. I’ve been working my way into hotter peppers for a while. You know, those small pepper packets that come with pizzas in the states. I sprinkle one of those in almost every soup I make. I topped everything off with 2 cups of water and ½ cup of white wine (I had Vernaccia open), covered the pot and let it cook on medium. When the soup started to boil, I turned it down a bit farther. I wanted a gentle boil, not a rolling one. I like my vegetables to remain firm and not be boiled into mush. After 20 minutes, I removed the bay leaves, the rosemary and the chicken. I cut the chicken into bite sized pieces, stirred it back into the soup and tasted the broth.
I was pleased that with all the strong flavors I’d included, nothing seemed to be overpowering. The flavors remained pretty distinct. I could taste the celery, the sage (but it wasn’t overwhelming), the bay and rosemary, and all the vegetables retained their unique flavors. I added a bit more salt and black pepper. It was time for lunch. I poured myself a little more wine, broke a piece of bread off a fresh baguette I’d just purchased, topped it with a bit of rich, creamy, butter (Italian butter is the best!!!), and I was ready to enjoy my first soup of autumn. The taste was fresh and pleasing. I have some ideas for modifying the recipe for different tastes.
- If you’re a dark meat chicken person, I’d use red wine instead of white
- If you like less “hearty” soups, you can peel all your vegetables
- Use any vegetables you like to modify the flavor
- Use any herbs and spices you prefer to modify the flavor
- You can, of course, omit the wine all together (why would you do that?!)
I’ll continue to experiment with food here in Florence. I promise I’ll only share the successes. Ciao!