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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Chicken Soup with Alphabet Pasta and Meatballs

The original recipe, which appeared in the now defunct Cookie magazine, called for star-shaped pasta. But if this is supposed to be a kid-friendly chicken soup, I can't think of anything more fun than alphabet-shaped pasta. Of course, you can use any tiny pasta that you wish, even orzo. (And I think of my sister-in-law trying to find Turkish alphabet pasta with a collection of ç and ö characters.)

Chicken Soup with Alphabet Pasta and Meatballs

2/3 cup finely grated fresh Parmesan
3/4 pound ground turkey or lean ground beef
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup cooked, squeezed dry, and chopped spinach
1 large egg, lightly beaten
coarse salt
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
8 oz alphabet-shape pasta (or any small pasta)
4 cups chicken stock or broth

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

2. Set aside 4 tablespoons of the cheese.

3. Combine the ground meat, onion, bread crumbs, spinach, egg, 3/4 teaspoon of the salt, and the remaining cheese in a medium bowl. Shape into 30 meatballs, each 1 inch in diameter.

4. Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Reduce heat to medium-low; add the meatballs and cook, turning, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer meatballs to a large saucepan.

5. Meanwhile, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package directions; drain.

6. Add the chicken stock to the browned meatballs and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the meatballs are just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Stir in the pasta and salt to taste.

7. Ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle with the reserved cheese.

The Verdict: Despite the simplicity of the recipe, it tastes like chicken soup that you put some actual effort into making. Even my toddler, who is pretty leery of soup, enjoyed it.

One of the reasons my son liked the soup, I think, is that I cooked a little extra pasta to add to the broth. That way, the parents got more broth, while he got more pasta and meatballs. If you go this route, be sure to have extra stock on hand if you end up with leftovers as the pasta will suck up the extra liquid.

The original recipe says that the meatballs can be added to tomato sauce and eaten with pasta. While they're very tasty, they did fall apart a bit. Which was fine for soup; I think it added to the recipe to have some bits of meat, spinach and onion floating in the broth. I suppose the same could hold true of meatball detritus in sauce, but classic meatballs are, well, balls.

My son has come down with a bit of a nasty cold, so this soup wound up on my weekly menu on exactly the right night. It was warming and filling; a great cool-weather dinner that was easy enough to whip up quickly.

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