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The Language of Love

Passport & Plate - Italian Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup

Italy | Thursday, 13 March 2014 | 3 photos

2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded (I prefer to use the breasts of a rotisserie chicken for simplicity's sake, but you can also grill or bake your own; this is also an opportunity to use up leftover chicken from a Sunday roast chicken dinner!)

1 leek, white and light green parts only, washed thoroughly

1 14.5 ounce tin artichoke hearts in water

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon Italian seasoning or, in lieu, a bouquet garni of fresh thyme, oregano, basil, marjoram, and rosemary

6-8 cups chicken broth or stock

3 large handfuls fresh chopped Swiss chard (Most shops nowadays stock pre-washed and pre-chopped chard in the bagged greens section of the produce department; if you can't find it like that, buy fresh chard leaves, wash well, fold over lengthways to slice out the tough stalk, and then slice into thin ribbons from there.)

2 large handfuls fresh baby spinach

1/2 bunch parsley, washed and chopped

1/2 cup dry orzo pasta

juice and zest of 1 fresh lemon

olive oil


How to prepare this recipe
1. In a small pot over medium-high heat, get some well salted water boiling so you can cook the orzo. I always prefer to cook pasta separately 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 orzo is rockin' and rollin', slice up your leeks and artichokes into bite sized pieces. Mince 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. Saute them for about 5 minutes, just to get a bit of browning going on. Toss in the garlic and Italian seasoning (or bouquet garni) and cook for 2 minutes more until the garlic is wonderfully fragrant. Then add your broth or stock and bring to a simmer.

4. We're on the home stretch! Add in your shredded chicken and let it simmer all together for about 10 minutes to let the flavours meld. Fresh delicate greens like spinach and chard should be honoured with only a quick cook time, which is why you want to throw them in right now at the end. Add the orzo now too, so it can finish cooking for about 2 minutes more.

5. Take this opportunity to adjust the consistency of the broth, depending on how thick or thin you like your soups to be. Then turn the heat off and stir in the fresh chopped parsley and the zest and juice of one lemon (through a strainer so as to avoid pips and pulp in your soup).

Taste, and adjust salt and pepper as necessary--though you'll likely find that your broth is plenty salty enough. Stir in a good glug or three of olive oil to finish, stir, and serve with warm, crusty bread.


The story behind this recipe
When it comes to expressing my feelings to someone I love, I can be a right dolt sometimes. I can write them down plenty fine, since I've been writing for about as long as I've been reading, which is to say, the last 21 years--but actually speaking them aloud? Blergh.

I might not be able to articulate my love for someone but I'm not COMPLETELY mute: perfecting my Dad's favourite dark chocolate cake for his birthday is me expressing my love in my language. "Slaving" over Sunday dinner (because truly, it is the utmost in pleasure and fun to me) to bring my family together for a meal, that's love without words. Food and feelings have always been deeply tied together, or there would be no such thing as "comfort food"!

When I fell in love with Lion Man, this inadequacy of mine actually proved to be rather convenient since I most vehemently did NOT want him to know. He earned his moniker with his enchanting golden-coloured eyes, but had I known what I know now, I might have called him Cheetah Man due to his penchant for bolting at the first sight of strong, deep feelings (those icky things). Alas. Still, lucky for me, I could keep my trap shut and love him fiercely and silently as we began what would become a year long adventure of the most passionate kind.

Wouldn't you know it, love always finds a way, and before long I was pouring my heart into a silky indulgent Hollandaise for lazy breakfast in bed with Lion Man. After that it was a Wild Boar Bolognese, simmering gently all afternoon as we danced in the kitchen to Frank Sinatra; the next, laboring over stuffed baked clams for the hallowed Feast of the Seven Fishes Christmas Eve dinner. I think my submission of Italian Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup, though, is the culmination of all those intimate memories because it is a recipe I dreamed up especially for him, to comfort and care for him when he fell ill by finding a way to nourish him, honour his strong Italian heritage, and once again, speak to him my language of love.

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