There are times where I feel super adventurous and want to cook something unfamiliar with crazy flavors. Then there are times where I just want something really simple and classic to eat. As the temperatures drop, as the first snowfalls of the season scatter across the country, and as we do everything we can to stay warm and cozy, this chicken orzo soup becomes exactly what we need.
The first time I made this soup was with my friend and former classmate Shefali (you can find her on Twitter here). We would meet up for dinner regularly while we both still lived in the city after grad school, and while we would go to plenty of restaurants, we’d also cook together from time to time. On one night, we made this soup, which tastes an awful lot like a classic chicken noodle soup — except it didn’t come out of a can. We made it ourselves. And it felt like such a revelation to me — a fledgling cook at the time.
Now I’m not saying I never eat canned chicken noodle soup anymore — sometimes laziness, sickness or pure nostalgia will still have me reaching for the readymade stuff. But ever since making this dish once with Shefali, who taught me the overall technique, I’ve had a tendency to make this from-scratch version at least once every fall or winter. I do end up using more than one pot to make this, as I bake some chicken while prepping everything else, but I enjoy cooking this soup and love eating it even more.
Contrary to what most cookbooks and blogs call for, I tend to use dry herbs when making this soup. It’s what we had on hand the first time we made it; it’s been convenient for me since, especially because certain types of fresh herbs have a tendency to wilt away in my fridge or end up forgotten and freezer burned months later in the freezer. But you can obviously substitute in some fresh herbs. This most recent iteration of the soup involved some herbes de Provence I keep in my spice cabinet, but I’ve also used a different combination in the past — the only bit I’d say is key is using rosemary (which is indeed incorporated in the aforementioned herbes de Provence). It really gives this soup its particular flavor.
So without much further ado, here’s how to make this soup happen:
- Serves 6 to 8, depending on hunger levels
- 32 ounces chicken broth
- Approximately 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 1/2 cup of orzo
- 4 carrots
- 3 celery stalks
- Small to medium-sized white onion (I used half of a very large one)
- Olive oil (or a neutral alternative)
- At least 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence (alternately, I have used a combination of dry rosemary leaves, oregano leaves and parsley flakes — no matter what you use, make sure there's an element of rosemary flavor)
- 1. Preheat the oven at 425 degrees Farenheit.
- 2. Place chicken breasts in baking dish - coat both sides in olive oil, at least one teaspoon of herbes de Provence (or a variation of the alternate herbs mentioned above), along with some salt and pepper.
- 3. Bake chicken for approximately 25 minutes. When it's done, let it cool for a bit and then cut it up into bite-size pieces.
- 4. Slice celery and carrots. Chop up the onion.
- 5. Boil 1 3/4 cup of broth. Add orzo; cook for about 10 minutes or so, then remove from flame. Don't worry about the orzo absorbing all the broth.
- 6. Add about a tablespoon of olive oil to a pot or Dutch oven; add onions, carrots and celery. Let them cook on the stove on medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 6 to 8 minutes. You can lower the heat a bit partway through this process.
- 6. Add in remaining 2 1/4 cups of broth, along with 1 1/4 cups of water. Then add the chicken, followed by the orzo (along with the remaining broth it was cooked in). Add salt, pepper and additional herbs according to preference.
- 7. Let the mixture simmer at least another 10 to 12 minutes, stirring from time to time, on medium to medium-high heat.
- Adapted via a technique taught to me by my friend Shefali.
Song Pairing: Angel Olsen, “Never Be Mine”
OK, the title may be a bit defeatist for your chicken soup, but this tune — a new one — has classic qualities (much like this soup) that might remind you a bit of Elvis or Roy Orbison. It’s a lovely, soothing track to listen to as you snuggle up under a blanket, cradling a bowl of soup in your hands. (And if you’ve somehow escaped hearing this track elsewhere or haven’t heard the album it’s on, My Woman, do take some time out to listen!)