Normally at this time of year, the air is getting chillier by the day and we are bundling up and keeping warm as best we can every night. Considering it has been a balmy 60 degrees the last couple of days, it hasn’t exactly felt like the winter of my youth. Thanks, global warming? My husband and I met in Los Angeles, but we moved back home to the East Coast years ago — partly in search of the seasons we had grown up with. So much for that.
In the event that it gets cold in the Northeast some time soon, I have my standard comfort food family recipes ready to go. Coming from an Italian family, food has generally been at the center of every holiday, life event, and conversation for as long as I can remember. We (my family at least) are incapable of gathering without cooking and serving a feast. My husband is baffled when I cook us dinner and make enough for the whole neighborhood. I am unable to make “just enough” for two people. What if we’re still hungry? What if someone drops in unexpectedly (although how often does that actually happen?). What if we want leftovers?
In any event, the beginning of late fall/early winter is usually marked by a big pot of soup. I have been eating this soup for as long as I can remember, and I have made a point of cooking it for my toddler over and over so that he also associates the season with this recipe. It is important for me to share pieces of my childhood with him every step of the way, and cooking is my favorite means to do so.
The soup in question is fondly referred to as “Red Bally Soup.” It is basically a chicken soup made with tomato sauce and served over acini di pepe, which is a tiny noodle in the shape of, you guessed it, a ball. Acini di pepe is a hit with kids because it is easy to chew, and it is a cute, unconventional shape. The soup itself is scrumptious and comforting, and since I make a giant pot of it, my family can luckily go back for seconds and thirds. Over the years my brother and I have adapted the recipe from our mother’s. My version is a little more involved than hers, but I see it as my take on a classic. My contribution to the family’s recipe arsenal. And here it is:
Red Bally Soup
- 1.5 lbs of bone-in, skin-on chicken (I like to use thighs and legs to get a lot of flavor from the dark meat, but feel free to use breasts if you prefer)
- 2 chicken bouillon cubes
- 1 large onion, diced
- 3-4 large carrots, chopped
- 3-4 stalks of celery, chopped
- 1 28 oz. can of plain tomato sauce
- 1 6 oz. can of tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 lb. box of acini di pepe (or some other small noodle, like orzo or ditalini)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Grated parmesan cheese (optional)
- Put about 4-5 quarts of water in a large soup pot over high heat.
- Crumble chicken bouillon cubes into pot, and add onion and chicken as well.
- Bring to a boil and then lower heat to medium-high, letting the ingredients roll on a low boil.
- In the meantime, in a smaller soup pot cook the acini di pepe according to package instructions. (But be sure to add about a tablespoon of salt and 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the water before adding the pasta—this seasons the pasta itself and will help keep it from sticking once it is cooked).
- After about 20 minutes on a low boil (and when chicken is no longer visibly raw), carefully remove the chicken from the pot.
- Add carrots, celery, tomato sauce and tomato paste to the pot and stir until paste is broken up.
- On a cutting board, carefully remove the skin from the chicken and discard.
- Remove the chicken from the bones, cut it into small, bite-size pieces, and return the boneless chicken to the pot of soup. Discard the bones.
- Add 1 tablespoon of salt and 1 ½ teaspoons of pepper.
- Reduce heat to medium and allow to simmer for at least another 30 minutes. I like to let my soup simmer for upwards of an hour so that all the flavors have a chance to blend nicely.
- Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.
- Scoop about 1/3 cup of acine di pepe into a bowl, and serve the soup over it.
- Sprinkle some grated cheese over the top and enjoy.
The next time it is cold out and you want to snuggle up with a warm bowl of soup, enjoy this as an option. I might make it this week, even if the weather does feel like spring. A tradition is a tradition after all.