This is a dish borne out of necessity. I am feeling a little sickly with a sore throat, so I thought a bit of homemade chicken soup couldn’t hurt. But I wanted noodles in my soup, dammit! Because it’s approximately 2 degrees outside, I really, really didn’t want to go to the store to get egg noodles. So, I searched and searched for an easy egg noodle recipe and came up with – Manfrigul. A specialty of the Romagna region of Italy, these babies are like little bits of chewy, noodle-y deliciousness very well suited to floating around in a chicken soup. And guess what? They don’t require a pasta maker!
Like the title suggests, this is a fairly easy recipe – “fairly” easy because I use split chicken breasts instead of a whole chicken, making the separation of the meat from the bones just a bit easier and the whole shebang just a bit quicker. You don’t have to make the homemade pasta, but trust me, they’re really not terrible to make. Because there aren’t a lot of various chicken parts in the recipe, the broth is on the lighter side. If you want a more robust broth, throw in some chicken necks, wings, or backs into the soup, or substitute low-sodium, high quality chicken stock for the water. The Parmesan cheese crust adds a bit more flavor. Oh, and you can make your pasta while your soup is simmering, just to give you something to do while you’re waiting.
One last thing. I have a serious, serious issue with mushy pasta in my chicken soup. I hate it. I hate mushy pasta in my soup almost as much as I hate the monopoly cinnamon has on apple-based desserts. Which is to say, seriously. So, what I do to remedy this situation is to cook the pasta separately from the soup. Some may say that you lose flavor that way, because pasta cooked in soup absorbs all of the soup-y goodness. Yes, this is true. But hear me out. I really like eating soup for a couple of days after I make it, since I usually make big batches. Pasta cooked in soup and then eaten the next day gets really mushy and is an abomination. Abomination, I say! (Feel free to ignore my ranting and cook your pasta directly in your soup.)
The Manfrigul recipe is adapted from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, a book that you should immediately buy and read cover-to-cover.
For the soup:
1 small onion, peeled and cut into quarters
2 carrots, peeled and chopped into 3-4 large pieces
2 celery ribs, chopped into 3-4 large pieces
4-5 thyme sprigs
4-5 parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
7-8 whole black peppercorns
2 gloves garlic, very papery outer skin removed (leave unpeeled)
1 teaspoon salt
2 bone-in chicken breasts (also called “split” chicken breasts)
4 quarts water
1 small Parmesan cheese crust, waxy outer coating scraped off with the back of a knife (optional)
Additional salt to taste
Freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for serving
For the pasta:
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more to (possibly) add to the dough and for kneading
2 eggs, lightly beaten with a fork
For the soup:
- In a large dutch oven or similar vessel, add the onion, carrots, celery, thyme, parsley, bay leaf, peppercorns, garlic, and the salt. Pour in the 4 quarts of water. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Add the chicken breasts, and boil for 7-8 minutes. A bunch of grey-ish foam will rise to the surface. Skim the foam off and discard it.
- Immediately turn the heat down to the lowest setting, and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Remove the chicken breasts and let cool slightly. Leave the broth a-simmering.
- Separate the meat from the chicken bones and set aside. Add the optional cheese crust and a pinch of salt. Return the chicken bones to the pot and continue to simmer for another 20 minutes.
- Remove the carrots, celery, and onion. Chop the vegetables into bite-sized pieces.
- Strain the soup through a fine-mesh strainer into a big bowl or similar vessel. Return the broth to the pot and add your chopped vegetables.
- Shred the chicken with your fingers, or chop (however you like the chicken in your chicken soup) and add back to the pot. Taste and correct for salt. (You will probably have to add quite a bit of salt at this stage. Don’t be afraid, unless you have a physical problem with salt. I guess you can be afraid if you do.)
- Simmer away until you’re ready to cook your pasta.
For the pasta:
- Add the flour to a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in your beaten eggs. Using three fingers on your dominant hand (I’m serious), start pulling in a bit of flour from the “walls” of the well into the eggs. Mix it up a bit with those three fingers.
- Continue pulling in flour and mixing with your fingers until a dough forms.
- Add additional flour until the mixture starts to feel less sticky. It’s almost 100% likely that you will need to add additional flour, as the flour to egg ratio really varies according to humidity and the like in your kitchen. Just add a little bit of flour at a time – it’s so much easier to add more than to remove flour (which is, actually, impossible).
- When you’re feeling pretty good about your dough, wash your hands, dry them really, really well, and stick your finger into the dough mass. It should come away fairly clean. Now, you knead.
- Add just a bit of flour to your board. Start kneading your dough (fold it up, push it away with the heel of your hand, rotate a quarter turn either clockwise or counterclockwise, repeat). Knead for 7-8 minutes straight. At the end of this kneading, your dough should feel super soft, like a baby’s butt.
- Pat the dough ball into a round about 1 1/2 inches tall. Spread a clean dishcloth out on your counter. Using a super sharp knife, cut the dough disk into very, very thin slices. As you cut a slice, transfer it to your waiting clean dishcloth. (Don’t be tempted to cut them all at once. They stick together and then you will have to re-form and pat out your dough ball. Trust me on this one.)
- Dry your pasta slices, turning each of them a few times, until they’re no longer sticky (but not hard as a rock). This took about 30 minutes. (Note: I found that it was easier to cut the pasta slices into thin strips after they had dried for about a half an hour. Then I allowed the strips to dry an additional 5 minutes or so before proceeding to the next step.)
- Using your sharp knife, chop the pasta slices into bits about the size of a piece of barley. You may need to separate some of your pasta bits from one another if your dough is still a bit sticky. (You can also use a food processor for the chopping, according to Marcella, but I didn’t try it.)
- Cook the Manfrigul in a bit of salted, boiling water (or in your soup, I suppose) for 5-7 minutes, or until they are tender. Add the pasta to your soup, top with grated Parmigiano, and enjoy (a little chopped parsley would be kind of nice, too).