Last year, my friend Andra of Fork and Pen (and momma to my daughter’s BFF) decided to host a soup swap. The idea was to gather six moms who would each bring six servings of soup to swap for our kids’ lunches. As a bonus, we each got to meet a couple new lovely ladies and spend some time once a month sipping cocktails, nibbling hors d’oeuvres and commiserating or celebrating as life dictates. Summer brought a bit of a hiatus, but with school back in session and some fall crisp in the air, Wassoup was back and I was thinking of fallish things to slurp.
I dabbled with memories of a velvety mushroom chestnut soup or the recent sweet potato soup I made with crumbled bacon and eggs on top. But as a meal intended for my daughter’s lunch (even though we all know most of us moms eat the soups ourselves), I tend to prefer something into which I can pack a whole meal of substance. So I thought instead about a chicken broth base with chicken and a pile of veggies. Roasted cauliflower is one of my favorite cool weather veggies and I often make a roasted cauliflower, barley ‘risotto’ which I thought was a good inspiration. I stopped at the store and grabbed a whole chicken, a pound of black forest bacon (because it is the only bacon at Whole Foods that is not cured with celery which I am allergic to) and a head of cauliflower and set to work.
I put the chicken in a large pot along with a large pile of frozen chicken wings and backs I’d been gathering. I added onion, carrot and fennel stalks, garlic and some peppercorns and simmered for a couple hours. When the chicken had cooled, I removed the meat, strained the broth and added some farro to the broth to simmer. Meanwhile I rendered the bacon (which, being black on the edges is not ever going to be a pretty garnish, but was tasty none-the-less), cooked more onion and carrot in the fat and got the cauliflower into the oven. When the farro was almost done, I added the cauliflower and simmered a bit more. I then took a few cups of soup and blended it until smooth and poured it back into the soup. Finally I added the bacon, onion mixture, chicken and a pile of kale. It was topped with some freshly grated parmesan and served with crusty bread.
I found the soup satisfying and filling and my daughter licked the bowl clean. I would call it a success except that, having no real lunches the next day, I packed it up for my husband, ate some myself and was not left with enough for the soup group! So it’s back to the drawing board with several days left to re-ponder, re-plan and re-cook.
Serves 8 Soup Meals
1 chicken (3-4 lbs)
2 fennel stalks (or celery)
1 t peppercorns
4 garlic cloves
1 cup farro
1 head cauliflower
4 pieces bacon
1 T thyme
1 bunch kale
Place chicken in a large pot with one onion cut into 8 pieces, two carrots, chopped, the garlic, fennel and peppercorns. Fill with water to cover the chicken by an inch and bring to a simmer. Skim any foam that surfaces and simmer soup for two hours or until the broth has a good, chickeny flavor. Remove the chicken to a bowl to cool and strain soup through fine mesh strainer.
Preheat oven to 400.
Put 12 cups broth back into a large pot with the farro and simmer about 20 minutes until farro is tender.
Cut cauliflower into small florets and toss to coat with olive oil. Season well with salt and pepper and spread out on a baking sheet. Bake about 40-50 minutes until browned, tossing once halfway through. Add cauliflower to soup and simmer a few minutes. Blend a couple cups of soup (with cauliflower and farro) until smooth and pour back into soup. Alternately you can use an immersion blender to blend a bit of the soup in the pot.
Meanwhile, slice bacon into lardons and render over medium heat until browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and cook remaining onion and carrots, both diced, in bacon fat until browning around the edges.
Remove meat from chicken and shred into smaller pieces. Add about 2/3 of the chicken to the soup reserving the rest for another use. Remove kale from stems and rip into smaller pieces. Add bacon, onion mixture and chopped thyme as well as the kale. Cook until kale is tender and ladle into bowls. Top with grated parmesan cheese.