Last year, I kept thinking about chicken and rice soup, but not your average chicken and rice soup, Auntie Agnes' chicken and rice soup. Auntie Agnes was our next door neighbor, she was like a second mother to us (me and my siblings) and was an amazing Italian cook. She taught my mother how to make tomato sauce and it was where I first tried homemade gnocchi. When we were invited to Auntie Agnes' for dinner, you ate what she put in front of us, which my mother found hilarious. If my mother made sauce for dinner, we wanted our pasta plain and if she made chicken and rice soup, we would have picked out the beans. My mother was a really good cook, we were just very picky and we could be picky at home, but not as a guest at Agnes'.
(Note: As I write this, there are so many scenarios and memories of being around and with Auntie Agnes rushing through my head; from the hair salon she owned, to her Christmas dinners and helping her put her earrings on. I wish I could share them all, but I think they would be scattered and probably only entertaining for me. I believe that everyone has a person from their past, that makes them smile when you think about life with them or without them. Even if it has been 20+ years since Agnes passed...)
I was going to make, what I remember of, Agnes' chicken and rice soup. I decided to begin with a homemade chicken broth and that starts with a whole chicken (3-4 pounds). I placed the chicken in a large pot with
2 medium yellow onions, chopped into quarters
2 stalks of celery
1 bay leaf
3 large cloves of garlic, sliced
Enough water to cover half the chicken
Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat until the chicken is thoroughly cooked, about 2 hours. (I used a chicken with an auto pop-up). Once the mixture has cooled slightly, remove the chicken from the pot. Remove the meat from the chicken and place in a separate bowl. I hand shred while I am removing the meat. Take out the carrots and pour the broth through a fine sieve. I try to push as much of the onion, garlic and celery through the sieve. Discard whatever is left (or won't go through the sieve.) You are looking for 8-10 cups of chicken broth. I was short by 2 cups and added boxed chicken broth.
Over medium heat, return the broth to the pot. Cut one carrot into 1 inch pieces and add to the broth. Then add:
2 (14-15 ounce) cans of small red beans, rinsed
4 cups of cooked rice
Shredded, cooked chicken
Allow the broth to come to a boil and and season salt and pepper. Serve hot with a bit of parmesan cheese. A crusty bread would be good, too!
This chicken and rice soup with red beans is absolutely delicious. For me, it has been a wonderful comfort dish that has reminded me of my days of growing up in Quincy, next door to a woman who was passionate about what she cooked. I think Auntie Agnes would be proud that something she made still lingers in my memory.
Is there someone in your life who taught you about food? I'd love to hear your story.