When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
When life sends the flu bug your way, make chicken soup. Or better yet, have someone who loves you make chicken soup. Even better still, have someone who really really loves you bring chicken soup *and* chicken kutleyti.
Here I’ve been for last several weeks, laid up, bored to death, unable to read or even knit, subjected to amazingly bad movie marathons on the scifi channel. Seriously. Someone gets paid to make them.
I’ve been thinking up bad scifi movie plots that are improvement on what currently showing. A psychotic upstairs neighbor pounding on the floor is actually taxiderming her former neighbors who supposedly moved away because of unemployment. Hear that pounding? You’re next!
Or a plucky single gal takes a spa holiday, keeps running into a surly but strangely handsome maintenance man, hears strange noises in the steam room late at night and uncovers aliens are running the spa and doing strange experiments on the patrons, so she and the now hunky maintenance man must save the world. Oh, sorry, that is an upcoming Fringe episode (just kidding).
One day, my friend A__ brought over a care package of a large jar of homemade chicken barley soup, a smaller jar of her pickles and four chicken kutleyti or cutlets. The soup got devoured over several days, it was like bowls of love and health flowing into my body, which responded with an audible “sighhhhhh, ahhhhh, thank you”, from a cellular level. The pickles are waiting patiently for the sore throat to ease. The kutleyti didn’t make until midnight.
I have to explain about the kutleyti. These Russian delicacies are bites of heaven; a concoction of ground chicken, vegetables and binders like bread and egg, like chicken meatloaf only better. They are little patties, the size of A__’s palms, fried in butter and served first with heaps of creamy mashed potatoes. Their second life is for breakfast the next morning, crumbled into an omlette filling with goat cheese and leftover mashed potatoes. Their next phase of their evolution is when they are eaten cold in sandwiches, sometimes with a dab of roasted onion jam or just with fresh butter. Often, they are wrapped in paper and nibbled furtively in the car or at volleyball games or while strolling down a foggy street. And, a few go to doggies, who almost elbow everyone aside in the kitchen because they *know* that a few kutleyti are coming their way, lucky creatures….
No matter how many cutlets are made, from 3 pounds of fresh chicken to 10 pounds or more, the hours spent grinding and frying result in the same outcome: by 5 pm the following day they are *all* gone. I have personally witnessed the rapid evaporation of cutlets from the table and fridge by hoards of hungry teens, the beloved beau, old family friends and BFF’s like me. The most I have seen eaten at one sitting by an individual is seven, and that includes a mound of potatoes worthy of a scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, my tarragon green beans and A___’s herb and tomato cucumber salad.
I know for a fact that dear A__ counts them. That is so unfair! Hypothetically (because no one *I* know has ever done this), if, in the middle of the night one is tempted to make a run on the kutleyti reposing in the fridge, sharp reprimands and interrogations will ensue the next morning and threats to withhold espresso are enacted. Yegads!!
The tiny, paltry portion of mercy kutleyti delivered to my sickbed were duly dispatched and a few days later I was invited to come over to A__’s home (with my dirty laundry) to have more kutleyti for dinner with lots of doggie TLC and red wine. The wine was purely for medicinal purposes, the tannins are helpful to the throat and good for the blood, you know.
The preparation and recipe of these particular kutleyti are a family secret, but you can watch them being prepared here:
Aren’t they yummy looking? You just have no idea.
As a consolation, here is my favorite chicken soup recipe, perfect for this time of year, or anytime someone you love needs a bowl of love from your kitchen. Trust me, they will thank you. And, hopefully return the kindness.
Chicken Soup with Pumpkin and Marsala Wine
by: Erica De Mane – Pasta Improvvisata
1 slice fatty, end-cut prosciutto, well chopped, or I prefer diced pancetta, or bacon
1 large onion, cut into small dice
2 carrots, cut into small dice
1 chicken, about 3 1/2 pounds
2 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
A few gratings of nutmeg
A few small sprigs of rosemary, leaves chopped
1/2 cup dry Marsala
2 quarts chicken broth (home made or store bought low sodium organic broth)
A large piece of pumpkin, peeled and cut into small cubes (about 2 cups) – or any winter squash
1/2 cup small soup pasta, cooked al dente, drained, and tossed in a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt
1 medium head escarole, washed, dried, and well chopped (substitute spinach or blanched kale or chard)
1 cup grated Grana Padana ( I use Parmesan cheese)
Choose a large casserole or heavy-bottomed soup pot fitted with a lid. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium flame. When hot, add the prosciutto/pancetta/bacon, onion, and carrots, and sauté a few minutes to soften. Add the chicken, seasoning it with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and rosemary, and brown lightly all over, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté a minute or so, just to release its flavor. Add the Marsala and let it reduce by half. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil (the broth should just about cover the chicken; if more than an inch sticks out, add water). Turn the heat to low, cover the casserole, and simmer, turning the chicken occasionally, until it is very tender, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Remove the chicken from the broth. Skim all the fat from the surface of the broth. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, pull the meat off it and cut into little chunks. Discard the skin and bones. Return the broth to a boil. Add the pumpkin and cook uncovered until tender but not falling apart, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken, the pasta, and the escarole/spinach/kale. Simmer on low heat about 2 or 3 minutes, just to blend the flavors and wilt the greens. Taste for seasoning, adding a bit more salt, black pepper, fresh rosemary, or a pinch of nutmeg to balance the flavors. Serve hot, topped with a sprinkling of Grana Padano/Parmesan.