In a household where one person is usually found doing the bulk of the cooking, there can often be a tad bit of confusion involved when the non-cooking sector of the household announces the intention to start taking on regular cooking duties. This confusion, it should be noted, is not on the part of the cook being given a break, but rather on the part of the new cook who is often times unsure about the differences between foods and ingredients that share a similar profile.
Such was the case when my husband, who has announced that he will now be cooking dinner one night a week, raised the question about the difference between chicken stock and chicken broth. It was a good question, but one that was tough for me to explain, save for the single qualifier I could think up that described chicken stock as being the more “chickeny” of the two liquids. Searching for a more detailed answer, we decided to consult with that tried and true tome of all things food: Joy of Cooking.
As it turns out, my description was not far off. Chicken stock (as with any meat-based stock) is made with a higher bone-to-meat ratio than chicken broth, and thus results in a thicker, more intense product. Stock also takes twice as long to produce, and one is required to take on a lot more butchering of the chicken in order to portion out the most desirable stock components (back, neck, bones).
It was then, envisioning an entire morning and afternoon spent tending to a stewing chicken skeleton, that my husband opted to take his first plunge into soup-making by way of tenderly poaching a whole chicken and producing what turned out to be an entire stock pot full of chicken broth.
The broth, while delicious, was also abundant, and it managed to stick around through two separate rounds of chicken soup (four rounds, really, if you account for the fact that on both occasions we were made to assemble a separate, non-vegetable, version of the soup for our preschool-aged child) without showing any signs of fatigue.
Which is not to say that our taste buds were not more than a little fatigued, leading to the desire for a more complex and dressed-up pot of soup. Desiring more vegetables (sorry, son), more textures, and more spice, I was drawn to the idea of plumping up the soup into something a bit busier. By adding tiny meatballs of Italian chicken sausage, the soup was instantly given a bit more heft.
Fresh carrots and celery sautéed with onions gave the flavor of the soup more depth, and a bit of fresh ginger added a much-needed hit of brightness.
After adding a handful of pasta and then deciding to serve the soup over a bed of fresh spinach, it soon became clear to me that by doctoring up my husband’s chicken broth, I had created a melting pot of colors and flavors known as Italian wedding soup, which, though neither of us is Italian, seemed quite fitting for a dish made by a marrying of both minds and meals.
Italian Wedding Soup
2.5 quarts (10 cups) chicken broth
1 pound bulk Italian chicken sausage
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red onion, finely minced
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
1 heaping cup dry pasta (we used rotini)
1 heaping tablespoon freshly grated ginger
salt and pepper to taste
8 oz spinach leaves, washed and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Using a teaspoon, portion out the Italian chicken sausage into 1 inch meatballs, dropping each one onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake meatballs for 20-25 minutes, or until cooked through and just slightly beginning to caramelize on the outside.
While the meatballs are baking, heat the olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, and celery, then saute, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened but the carrots still retain their bright color, about 5-8 minutes. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add the pasta to the simmering soup, and cook until tender, about 5-8 minutes. Add the baked meatballs and cook for an additional minute. Add in the fresh ginger, chopped parsley, and salt and pepper to taste, then stir to combine. Taste, then adjust seasonings as you see fit.
To serve soup, place a handful of chopped fresh spinach in the bottom of each bowl. Ladle soup directly over spinach, then top with a sprinkling of additional parsley, if desired.