Proust’s Chicken Pasta Soup
‘When from the distant past nothing remains, after the beings have died, after the things are destroyed and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, yet more vital, more insubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of everything else; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the immense architecture of memory.’
Ingredients per person:
(Make as much or as little as you like, though I usually make a lot, as it keeps a long time in the fridge.)
2-3 juniper berries
100 grams of spaghetti
50 grams of ceci beans
1/4 chicken, cut into pieces
Herbs to taste
Still more water
1-2 Celery stalks
Extra virgin olive oil
Yup. More water.
Toasted pumpkin seeds
In the dim light of the cool early morning make your way into the kitchen. Turn the long metal handle of the faucet inward and watch as first a slightly dirty burst, then a clean sparkling sheen of water flows into the large, old, aluminum pot.Long ago as a child sitting at the kitchen table you couldn’t see the water flowing in but you would imagine your mother there, her long, thin white arms protruding away from the dark, flower-patterned dress she was wearing, her light brown hair tied loosely in the back, as you ate freshly baked Madelines for breakfast…crap, the water is overflowing. Nothing to worry about. Just turn the handle shut and tip out some of the excess until with your eyes you judge there is the right amount. Put the pot on the back burner, on the lowest of heat, as it will have to simmer and simmer through the day. Shift your attention to the cutting board, and all the cleaned vegetables resting there. The celery, the onions, the shallots, the carrots…all of them you will have to chop, taking care to look as their wholeness begins to fracture beneath the blade and their scent begins wafting throughout the kitchen, that same smell that greeted your arrival every summer until you went away and in the city stopped having dinner at home and began buying food already prepared, sushi, Chinese, MacDonald’s, not quite like the sweets your mother used to buy in the summertimes, in the evenings as together you went strolling along the main road, pausing by the windows of each store to see what was inside. They were tranquil moments, then, before age, love and boredom were to have taken most of what remained of life. Uh, where was I? Oh, yeah, the vegetables. Chop them all into more or less evenly sized morsels as later they will all go into the pot together. But first the chicken pieces must be placed into the water and then the water skimmed, as it will be skimmed all through the day, over and over again, to take away the impurities from the soup until it becomes clearer, until each of the pieces though mixing in it’s own important flavor to the whole can be distinguished as they dance and twirl in the water from the others, even if only for a moment. At a certain point you will have to break the spaghetti sticks into smaller pieces, they are harder and will crack when you do, but as the flour becomes permeated with the gently boiling broth they will gain suppleness and to, will blend in with the other ingredients, absorbing some of the flavor. Staring into the nearly finished soup, at each of the pieces, and breathing in the scent when you know its almost finished, only slightly different and less green than it was earlier in the day, just as you did when you would come back from the evening stroll and the same scent would be throughout the house and then you would look for the sweets that had been bought and set on the great cherry wood credenza next to the oak table for later, the table would already be set with the white porcelain plates and bowls and heavy glasses beside and… Merde! Look the time, it’s nearly 8:10pm and your sister will be arriving soon, she, now, lovely and tall with Katrina, her baby, she will be holding her in her arms and, and damn I still have to take a shower, and, oh, hell with it. Who am I kidding? God I hate it when they bring the kid, always whining, doesn’t like my soup, says it tastes like old socks, says she prefers pizza. Old socks. Pizza. I’d like to wring her little French neck…. Oh, I almost forgot. Before serving sprinkle first with a little extra-virgin olive oil and then the edible wildflowers and toasted pumpkin seeds.
My own invention. Mom never did that.
The recipe: Add the chicken pieces into a large pot of cold water, then place on a burner. As the water slowly comes to a boil add all the ingredients after they’ve been roughly chopped. Remove the impurities that float to the top with a deep spoon or skimmer. Once the soup has come to a boil, partially cover and reduce heat to a minimum and cook for at least an hour, or until the chicken meat falls from the bone. From time to time remove any impurities from the top and check the seasoning. Once done, drain the soup, removing the solid pieces and keeping the fluid. Place the drained soup back into the pot. Increase the heat and once returned to a boil add the broken spaghetti noodles.
Shred the chicken and vegetables as the pasta boils. When the noodles are ready add the the solid pieces and ladle the soup into individual wide-rimmed bowls, sprinkle with some olive oil and decorate with one or two edible flowers and a few toasted pumpkin seeds (… very optional). Serve with… whatever you like, but what the heck, choose something French.
link – Proust, food and memory – https://harpers.org/blog/2009/06/proust-memory-and-the-foods-of-childhood/
for more pasta recipes, on sale now for much less than a plate of pasta with oil and garlic – The Pasta Papers vol. 1