It’s been chilly this spring in D.C., with lots of sweater-weather days that make me want to put my hands around a hot mug of tea or dip into a bowl of soup, but the bounty of fresh, seasonal produce is calling my name, too.
So, I’ve been experimenting a bit with light, brothy recipes filled with quick-cooking, spring vegetables. This Chicken Soup With Orzo and Spring Vegetables from America’s Test Kitchen’s book, “The Chicken Bible,” has become a new go-to.
It’s so simple that I was surprised by how delicious and fragrant it turned out. And it is so versatile that I’ve been able to use up bits of produce leftover from other recipes — a carrot, a stalk of celery and the last bit of a package of frozen peas — something I’ve been striving to do more often to help cut down on food waste.
And while my experiments with other varied ingredients have been good, none has been as tasty as the version included in the ATK book. Thinly sliced mild leeks, along with celery and a sprinkle of dried thyme, create a flavorful chicken broth. Carrots and peas brighten up the bowl, and the asparagus is added in toward the end, so it keeps a bit of its snap.
Cooked chicken is shredded or chopped into bite-size pieces and added to the grassy broth. You can gently poach the chicken – dark or light meat – but if you’ve got leftover baked or roasted chicken, this is a great way to use that up, too.
This soup calls for orzo, but it is good with no pasta in it at all, or with leftover rice tossed in at the end.
Just before serving, stir in the fresh tarragon for an aromatic finish. Save some tarragon leaves to sprinkle on top, too, just before serving. Try it with a few saltines for a thrifty, warming supper on a chilly evening.
Chicken Soup with Orzo and Spring Vegetables
Active time: 25 minutes | Total time: 40 minutes
Makes: 6 to 8 servings
This soup is a delicious way to use up bits of leftover produce. And, if you’ve got cooked chicken on hand, you can have the soup on the table in about 25 minutes. Substitute about 2 cups of cooked meat for the raw chicken, and skip the poaching step. Sweet, mild leeks and grassy asparagus add flavor, with fresh tarragon delivering a fragrant finish. It goes great with saltine crackers.
Make Ahead: The chicken can be poached up to 3 days ahead.
Storage Notes: Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
- 8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 pound boneless chicken breast or thigh meat, visible fat removed
- 1 bay leaf
- 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt, divided
- 1 medium carrot (about 4 ounces), scrubbed and sliced 1/4-inch thick
- 1 celery rib, sliced 1/4-inch thick
- 1 pound leeks, white and light green parts only, washed well, halved and then thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- 3/4 cup orzo (about 4 ounces)
- 12 stalks asparagus (about 4 ounces), trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
- 1/2 cup (2 ounces) green peas (fresh or frozen; if frozen, no need to defrost)
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon, plus more for garnish
- Freshly ground black pepper
- In a large pot over high heat, heat the chicken broth. Cut the chicken pieces in half or thirds crosswise. Add the chicken, a bay leaf and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Stir once or twice, cover and bring to a gentle simmer. Reduce the heat to medium or medium-low, cover and gently cook until an instant-read thermometer reads 160 degrees when inserted into the thickest pieces of chicken, 10 to 12 minutes. Do not allow the chicken to boil. (This is a good time to prepare your vegetables.)
- Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let it cool to the touch, then slice and shred with a fork or your fingers, breaking it into bite-size pieces.
- Once the chicken is removed from the broth, increase the heat to medium-high and add the carrot, celery, leeks, thyme, red pepper flakes (if using) and the remaining salt and cook until the vegetables have softened, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken, orzo, asparagus and peas and cook until the orzo is tender and the asparagus is crisp-tender, about 7 minutes, stirring two or three times to prevent the orzo from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
- Stir in the tarragon. Taste, and add salt and pepper, as needed. Stir well to redistribute some of the orzo that may sink to the bottom, then ladle into bowls. Sprinkle with more fresh tarragon, if desired, and serve hot.
Nutrition (based on 8 servings) | Calories: 233; Total Fat: 4 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 46 mg; Sodium: 385 mg; Carbohydrates: 31 g; Dietary Fiber: 3 g; Sugar: 5 g; Protein: 21 g.
Adapted from “The Chicken Bible” from America’s Test Kitchen (Penguin Random House, 2021).