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The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Grazie mille!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

“Improved” Campbell's Chicken Soup? Here's A Better Recipe

Better Because It's Homemade

I can't remember a time when there weren't at least a few cans of Campbell's soup in the pantry. Like most of my generation, I grew up with the stuff. But times, they are a-changin'. And so are some of Campbell's soups. Chicken Noodle Soup is the first to undergo what the company says is “closing the gap between the kitchen and our plants.” Okay. We won't talk about how the “gap” got there in the first place. Or maybe we should.

The pressure is on Campbell's and other food manufacturers to catch up with more discerning consumers. Going, going, and soon to be gone are the days when shoppers strolled down the aisles of supermarkets loaded with literal tons of processed foods and somewhat automatically tossed boxes, bags, and cans of whatever additive and preservative laden junk the big food companies put out on the shelves into their carts and dutifully toted them home, heated them up, and served them to their families. People trusted food manufacturers. Of course, they also trusted lawyers, police officers, and used car salesmen. There was an innocence and naivete among the food buying public, one that assumed that the products they were buying at the altar of convenience were also healthy and wholesome. Many of the labels used those very adjectives. Surely they wouldn't mislead us for the sake of profit! You mean some of those ingredients I can't even pronounce aren't really good for me? Perish the thought! Today's shoppers are beginning to expect actual food in their food stores, not chemistry sets in a can. Hence the panicked rush on the part of some manufacturers to close “the gap.”

Campbell's says they're reducing the number of ingredients in their chicken noodle soup from thirty to twenty. Some of the excised ingredients are potassium chloride, monosodium glutamate, maltodextrin, and lactic acid. They're also removing onions and celery from the new soup, which is is a bit puzzling. Along with carrots, onions and celery form the basis from which nearly all soups are made. How do you maintain the flavor profile? Unless, of course, you've discovered a new chemical way to replicate the taste of onions and celery. Which sort of defeats the purpose, right?

Now, bear in mind, they are not messing with the ingredients in the “classic” condensed version of the iconic red and white can. No, the revamped soup is one that's being marketed for kids under a “Star Wars” theme. Campbell's plan, according to a spokesperson, is to take what they learn from remaking the kid's version and apply it to their other chicken noodle recipes over time. For now, the “classic” soup still contains MSG, sodium phosphate, soy protein isolate and a lot of other “classic” ingredients. Including good ol' “dehydrated chicken.”  

Anyway, I have a solution to the whole situation: cooking. You may have heard of it?

Now, I'm not gonna lie. I mentioned up front that Campbell's soups have been in the pantry for as long as I can remember. That includes this morning. There are six cans in there right now; three each of chicken noodle and tomato. They're my “emergency stash.” Also in the pantry are several cans of chicken broth and tomatoes. And there's chicken stock in the freezer. Those are the things from which real chicken soup and tomato soup are made. I'm a little short on modified food starch, flavoring, beta carotene, yeast extract, and MSG, so if you want those things, you'll have to go buy your own can of Campbell's. Otherwise, try my recipe for chicken soup. Who knows? Maybe it will help you close “the gap” in your kitchen.

A couple of ingredient notes before we get started: you really can make your own chicken stock. It's just not that hard, but it does take a little time and effort. So, with that said, packaged product is okay. The can of broth I'm holding contains chicken stock and 2% or less of salt, natural flavoring (an ingredient I'm always leery of), yeast extract, carrot juice concentrate, celery juice concentrate, and onion juice concentrate. I buy the stuff that's labeled “100% fat free, no MSG added, 33% less sodium.” It's not as flavorful or as good as the homemade stock I've got in my freezer, but it's an acceptable substitute.

As far as the chicken goes, just about any form of cooked chicken will do. Even the canned stuff, if you really must. But leftover chicken is really good, especially if you have some whole roasted rotisserie chicken from the deli left over. Adds a nice roasted flavor. Or you can get them to slice a couple of good thick slices of your favorite deli chicken and you can bring 'em home and shred 'em up.

Okay, here goes:

First, gather together the following ingredients:

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium carrot, small dice
1 rib celery, small dice
1 bay leaf
2 qt (64 oz) chicken stock or broth
8 oz dried egg noodles
1 cup shredded cooked chicken
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
Flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

Now find a sufficiently large soup pot like a stock pot or Dutch oven. It's got to be big enough to hold a half-gallon of liquid with room to spare. Place the pot over medium heat and coat the bottom with a little oil. We're not deep frying anything here, just sauteing some vegetables. Start with the onion. Season lightly with a little salt – called “sweating” in fancy kitchen lingo – and let it cook for a few minutes until it starts to soften. Then add the garlic and let it cook with the onion for about a minute. Don't let it brown; browned garlic is bitter and nasty. Now add in your carrots and celery. You're building layers of flavor. Don't dump it all in together. Altogether, the vegetables should cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until soft.

Next, add the chicken stock or broth and bring it to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and drop in the bay leaf and the noodles. Simmer until the noodles are tender, about 5 or 6 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and stir in the shredded chicken. Season with salt and pepper and continue to simmer for another few minutes, tasting for seasoning as you do. Sprinkle the soup with parsley and serve in warmed soup bowls.

Yields four servings of chicken soup that fills not only that “gap” Campbell's keeps talking about, but your tummy, as well. It'll be better than anything Campbell's can can and better for you because you made it yourself and you know what's in it.

Buon appetito!

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