Saturday, November 8, 2008

Greek. Again.

I shouldn't be so hard on myself about the Greek-food thing - truthfully, we haven't made anything remotely Greek in weeks, so I guess I'm not THAT obsessed. And if I've gotta be addicted to a particular cuisine, at least this one is pretty healthy. It could be worse - at least I don't have an insatiable hunger for bad Americanized Chinese food. Right? Right.

Anyway, this was the last of a long string of soup-centric meals, and to my mind at least, the best.



I've always seen avgolemono mentioned in the context of a soup, but the name really has a much broader definition. From Wikipedia:

"Avgolemono is a family of eastern Mediterranean sauces and soups made with egg and lemon juice mixed with broth, heated until they thicken but before they boil, so the egg doesn't curdle. Avgolémono is the Greek name, meaning egg-lemon; in Arabic, it is called tarbiya or beida bi-lemoune 'egg with lemon', and in Turkish terbiye." More...

Up until recently, this idea has not appealed to me; my earlier reference to bad American Chinese food is particularly apt, because when I thought about egg being added to soup, I automatically pictured something akin to Chinese egg drop which, quite frankly, makes me gag. The reality, however, is far more pleasant. Rather than ending up with a thick, gloopy broth with ribbons of barely cooked egg running through it, the method for adding the lemon-egg mixture to the soup in this preparation actually tempers and lightens the eggs, serving to only thicken the soup slightly and give it a smooth, velvety mouthfeel. No runny eggs here, my friends, and that's a-ok with me.

Traditionally, avoglemono in its soup form is made very simply, with rice or perhaps orzo and pieces of poached chicken added to the fortified broth. I had intended to actually stick to tradition on this one at first, planning only to add some chopped spinach near the end as well in an effort to get some good green veggies into the meal. However, our spinach went bad before I could cook this (I HATE supermarket veggies...) so I ended up making some other changes and substitutions to compensate. In the end, my version contained chicken, asparagus, and artichoke hearts, with my beloved fregola sardo subbed in for the arborio rice in the original recipe.

And it was good.

Really, really good.




Avgolemono with Asparagus, Artichokes, and Fregola Sardo
Adapted from Avgolemono: Chicken Soup with Egg-Lemon Sauce by Cat Cora

1 large boneless/skinless chicken breast
6 cups chicken broth or stock
1 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 white onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup diced peeled carrot
1/3 cup fregula sardo
1/2 cup frozen quartered artichoke hearts, thawed and sliced in half lengthwise
1/2 lb asparagus, woody ends trimmed and stalks cut into 1/2" pieces, tips reserved
1 large egg
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (I felt this was maybe a bit too much - I needed two lemons to get 1/4 cup of juice, so I think next time I might just use one.)
S&P to taste
Lemon slices or wedges, optional

Place the chicken breast in a saucepan and add enough broth to cover. Place over medium-high heat and simmer until chicken is cooked, 15-20 minutes. When cooked, remove the chicken from the pot and set aside to cool. Add the reserved asparagus tips to the pan to blanch for just a minute or two, until they are slightly softened but still bright green. Remove with a slotted spoon to an ice water bath to stop them from continuing to cook, and turn off the heat under the broth. Set aside.

Meanwhile, add the olive oil to the bottom of a larger saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until shimmering gently. Add the onions and garlic and a pinch of salt, and sautee until they are translucent and softened. Add the bay leaf and carrots and sautee for another 2 to 3 minutes, until fragrant.

Pour in the broth used to cook the chicken, as well as any extra, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer about 30 minutes. Pour through a fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl to strain out the vegetables and bay leaf, then pour back into the saucepan and move back over the heat. Don't worry if you still have a few bits and pieces of veg in there - it won't hurt the soup any; in fact, you could even skip this step completely and only remove the bay leaf, if you'd like to make things easier, and it'd be just as good if a little chunkier than this version. I like the simplicity of the finished soup in this recipe, personally - the onions, garlic and carrots are only there to flavor the broth.

Add the fregola sardo and allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the fregola is still slightly al dente.

Meanwhile, whisk the lemon juice and egg together in a bowl and set aside. Cut the cooked chicken breast into cubes, about 1/2"-3/4".

When the fregola is mostly cooked, add in the asparagus, artichokes, and chicken, and continue to simmer until the fregola is completely cooked. Remove from heat and get your egg-lemon mixture.

Using a ladle, add some of the soup broth to your bowl of egg and lemon very slowly, using a whisk to incorporate the hot liquid. You need to do this slowly so that the eggs don't curdle, which would cause that nasty egg drop syndrome. Place your hand against the side of the bowl occasionally to test the temperature of the mix - when it feels slightly warmer than room temperature, you can pour the whole mix back into the pan without danger. Be sure to stir the soup as you add the egg mixture to keep things smooth - the broth should only thicken slightly and should still resemble a broth rather than a sauce or stew. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary. I found that I needed no salt, but added quite a bit of black pepper for just a bit of bite.

Ladle immediately into serving bowls and top with the reserved blanched asparagus tips, garnishing with a lemon slice or wedge if desired.

I think that this could be an extremely flexible recipe; you could add in almost any vegetables you like to cater it to your tastes, or make it vegetarian by omitting the chicken and using vegetable broth. You could experiment with grains, using rice or orzo as is traditional, or perhaps trying something like farro for a nutty, chewy texture that I bet would be especially tasty. And since its reasonably sophisticated on the palate, pretty to look at, and easy to make, I think it would be great for entertaining. Some flatbread or crostini with feta toasted on top would make a great accompaniment. We'll be making this again!

3 comments:

once in a blue moon... said...

this sounds fantastic, all the flavors i love~

danazia said...

You had me at hello! This looks fantastic! It is great to find your blog. I love your new and fresh ideas and great photography! Where did you learn to take pictures of food? Come over for a visit.
Dana Zia

Callie @ The Picky Gourmet said...

could you eat this leftover? What is the best way to reheat it?