While we end up eating our fill of soups and stews during the chilly wintertime, we still yearn for a bowl now and then when the weather begins to heat up or we need a bit of comfort in the form of food (like last night!). They don't tend to be as heavy or rich though, just like the Toasted Orzo Chicken Soup we prepared.
You'll need cooked chicken to toss into the bubbling pot later, which you could do by picking up a rotisserie bird from the market, but we followed along with the recipe and poached a pound of chicken breasts right in the broth we would be using later on in the soup. Not only does this gently cook the chicken, keeping it tender and moist, but it amplifies the liquid (whether it be broth or stock, whichever you have on hand), adding another layer of "chicken-ness", for lack of a better word.
As to not waste time, while the chicken was working away, we took the ozro (rice-shaped pasta, which incidentally we've seen come in whole-wheat now!) and tossed it around in a sizzling puddle of melted butter. When the pasta turned a deep golden brown, intensifying its nuttiness, we scooped the slender pieces out onto a plate, allowing us to use the same pot to start the vegetables in. With a heavy drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil to get us started, chopped carrot, vibrant red bell pepper and a couple finely chopped shallots were stirred in to begin softening.
We held back on the next two ingredients, shredded zucchini and minced garlic, because they don't take as long to cook. If you happen to prefer the texture of chopped zucchini, rather than shredded, feel free to make that swap - just remember to throw it in when you add the other vegetables. By this point, the chicken should be cooked through - remove the breasts from the poaching liquid and let it cool while you skim any foam or excess fat away from the enhanced broth. You don't have to be super diligent here, but the more impurities you remove, the cleaner the soup will be. When you can handle the chicken, shred it using your hands or two forks - you can also run your knife through the meat, but shredded makes it feel more homey to us.
The toasted orzo was brought back into the mix as soon as the vegetables were ready, along with the chicken, boosted broth and a couple cups of water. Just before the orzo was cooked through, we added another shot of color by stirring in a handful of peas, which take just a minute to come up to temperature. Before I added the last two pieces to this puzzle, I wanted to give the soup a taste to see what they would add - it tasted fine as is, if a bit flat and "routine".
Fresh parsley and the oil-y zest from a lemon was what I was holding back and once the two were stirred in, they made all the difference. That was all this soup needed to go from "ho-hum ordinary" to "zing! I've got your attention now". Light, refreshing and full of eye-popping color, this soup was just as filling to us as those rich, hearty soups or stews we jump for in the colder months, without leaving us in a sleepy coma afterwards. We got about four well-portioned servings, but I imagine you could stretch this to six or so by bumping up the vegetables a bit.
Toasted Orzo Chicken Soup