My main character in the Our Australian Girl series that I’m currently writing is Lina, the daughter of Italian migrants growing up in Carlton in the 1950s. There’s a little scene at the start of the third book in the series in which Lina’s nonna, her grandmother, makes brodo—that is, chicken soup—to comfort Bruno, Lina’s older brother, who has been the victim of a racist attack.
My partner Raffaele and his family have been the primary source of inspiration for this series, so I thought his chicken soup recipe would be the perfect contribution to your blog. It’s the type of chicken soup that Southern Italian immigrants would have made in 1950s (which Raffaele learnt from his mum, but with a couple of slight variations borrowed from Abla’s Lebanese Kitchen, a cookbook that Raffaele had a hand in helping put together).
The brodo that Lina’s nonna makes in Our Australian Girl would likely have been made by using gallina (a laying hen, rather than pollo), and would have used all of the chicken, not just the breast. In that case, the chicken would have simmered initially for 2 hours at least. And an ingredient that Nonna would have added to the soup is pasttina (small-style pasta), which is included here as optional. (But Raffaele tells me that he loved it when his mother, instead of adding pasta, would often make these tasty, elegant, little pork and veal meatballs that she’d pop into the soup in the last 30 minutes of cooking.)
To give you a bit of background about chicken soup in Italy, especially in the south, it was considered more than a comfort food, it was also looked upon as a sign of prosperity. That’s why among those Italians holding up traditions, chicken soup is always served as the first course of a Sunday lunch or festive dinner.
It is also a soup served all year round, even on hot summer days. Of course, in the winter it helped stave off the cold, but in summer it was served to help you keep cool by raising up a sweat.
Another thing that would have happened in Lina’s time is that a small bowl of freshly grated parmigiano (parmesan cheese) would have been placed on the table for those who enjoy a little extra bite to their soup. Or, more likely, a chunk of parmigiano along with a small hand-grater would have been passed around the table.
Raffaele’s wonderful chicken soup has seen me through all types of illnesses, from morning sickness to the flu. He has also made it for friends of mine recovering from childbirth to help them get their strength back – it really is a miracle soup, and always made with such love. I like to joke that Raffaele and I make the perfect couple in that he loves to cook and I love to eat.
Brodo di pollo (Chicken Soup)
2 chicken breast, on the bone and skin removed
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, including stalks
2 large ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks (including some tender leaves), finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground allspice
½ cup small-style pasta such as treccine, capellini, or crushed vermicelli
Place the chicken breast in a saucepan with 7-8 litres of water. Add the cinnamon and bay leaves, and bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, partially cover the saucepan and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the meat starts to fall away from the bone. Transfer the chicken breast to platter and set aside. Strain the broth and discard the bay leaves and cinnamon stick.
Bring the strained broth to a boil over high heat. Add the onion, parsley, tomato, carrot and celery to the saucepan. Reduce the heat to medium and let simmer.
Meanwhile, pull the meat from bone and shred into bite-sized pieces. Return the shredded pieces to the pan, then add salt, pepper and allspice and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.
If using, add the pasta and cook for a further 3 minutes or until tender.
Check seasoning before serving.