I don’t remember cans of Chickarina soup in my house as a child, but they were certainly a big hit during my college years. When we went the route of a splurge, my best friend and I would throw a few cans of Chickarina into the cart for random lunches and dinners. But because we went through them so quickly and couldn’t afford to get them all the time, Chickarina became a bit of a delicacy. With my proclivity for making soups and stocks even back then, I’m surprised I didn’t attempt a homemade version back then. No matter – I came around to it eventually 🙂
Upon researching this recipe, I tried to find out more of the history of Chickarina. Like some deep, dark government secret, there is no true history available online. What the hell? There were a few mentions of a “chickarina” jingle from way back in the day, including this one from a site dating it back to the 60s. And a whole lot of people labeling it as Italian Wedding Soup, which it’s not. Though both dishes have mini meatballs and acini di pepe (mini pasta pearls – the name means “peppercorns” in Italian), the spinach or escarole is replaced with carrots and celery for a chicken soup + meatball experience. It’s excellent through and through, and a lovely riff on home cooked goodness.
Though mired in mystery, I am dedicated to the joys of chickarina. Who doesn’t love a hearty bowl of chicken soup? Or a meatball? Or the two together in a melange of flavors? Bring it.
If you can’t score the acini di pepe, you can also use Israeli couscous as a stand in. Just make sure to watch them as they cook in the stock as the couscous will start to disintegrate if you overcook it.
1 large onion
2 stalks of celery with tops
a handful of parsley stems
2 bay leaves
1 whole fryer, about 3-5 lbs.
4-6 quarts of water
1 cup of acini di pepe or israeli couscous
3 stalks of celery, deribbed and sliced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced into coins
1 lb. of lean ground beef
1/2 tsp. of garlic powder
1 tbs. chopped parsley
1 tsp. of salt
1/2 tsp. of pepper
1 tsp. of oregano
1 large egg
1/2 c. of bread crumbs
1/4 c. of cheese
Begin by making your stock. In a pot or a pressure cooker, add a whole chicken, onion, parsley stems, parsnips, 2 carrots, 2 celery with tops, and bay leaves. If using a pressure cooker, add enough water to cover (at least 4 quarts), cook on high pressure for 40 minutes and then bring back to pressure naturally. If using a stock pot, add 5-6 quarts of water, bring to a boil and simmer chicken until cooked through, about 2 hours. Strain liquid and set aside. Separate skin, bones and vegetables from chicken. Shred the meat and set aside. You can save the skin, bones and veggies for another pot of stock, or you can discard.
Now, get to making the meatballs. Preheat the oven to 400°. With a standing mixer or with your hands, mix the ground beef, garlic powder, parsley, salt, pepper, oregano, egg, bread crumbs and cheese. Make sure not to overmix. With excruciating patience, use a 1/4 teaspoon to form mini meatballs. Line a baking sheet with foil and place all of the meatballs on the sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Set aside.
Put 4 quarts of stock in a pot with the meatballs, sliced celery and carrot coins. Bring to a boil and then add your acini di pepe. Cook for about nine minutes, or until pasta pearls are tender. In the last minute of cooking, add the chicken meat to the pot. Serve with chopped parsley.