Two Years Ago: Roast Pork, Fennel and Green Bean Salad
This is a relatively light soup, making it perfect for the transition to fall. What makes it unique is the bright pop of lemon. Panera has a very similar version in their soup rotation so I guess this qualifies as a Panera copycat even though I found the recipe elsewhere.
The soup is simple to make, but I have two suggestions. The first is to do all your prep in advance so you're not frantically trying to chop something while something else is boiling over on the stove. That way you can just stand and admire how beautiful your soup is as you casually add ingredients at exactly the right time while sipping an adult beverage.
The second is to use really good quality chicken stock. I've tested several brands over the years and recommend Kitchen Basics (no paid endorsement!) because it's darker and richer than many other brands. Even the regular version has less sodium than some other varieties but I always buy the low sodium version so I can control the salt. Prepared soups that you buy in the store or in a restaurant are notoriously high in sodium (Panera's Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup has over 1,00mg of sodium per serving) so using a low-sodium stock allows you to start low and add more salt gradually. Better yet, leave the sodium level low and put the salt on the table. People never add as much salt after the fact.
The reason why the recipe calls for pre-cooked chicken (I used rotisserie chicken from the deli) rather than cooking the chicken in the soup is because I've found that cooking it in boiling or simmering liquid can cause the chicken to become chewy and fairly flavorless if it's overcooked. (Case in point - Ina Garten's recipe for homemade chicken stock tells you to throw away the cooked chickens after making the stock.) Adding cooked shredded chicken at the last minute is an easy way to ensure the chicken is stays tender.
Last point: you'll notice the recipe calls for stemming the baby spinach. You can skip this step if you want but spinach stems are one of my (many) pet peeves, whether in soups or salads. They're hard to eat, unappetizing in salads, and stringy in soups. Most restaurants (and people, for that matter) don't take the time to stem them, but call me obsessive.
Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large stalk or celery, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 shallot, diced
1/8 cup dry sherry
2 quarts good quality low-sodium chicken stock
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
½ cup uncooked orzo
1 cooked boneless skinless chicken breast, shredded
Zest of 1 lemon
½ cup fresh lemon juice
3 ounces baby spinach, stemmed and coarsely chopped
In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the celery, carrots, garlic and shallots and sauté until just tender, 5-8 minutes. Deglaze with the sherry, then add the stock, bay leaf and thyme. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.
Remove the thyme and bay leaves, then add the orzo and simmer for an additional 8 minutes. Add the shredded chicken, lemon zest and juice, and spinach and cook, stirring, for 2-3 more minutes to wilt the spinach and make sure everything is hot. Taste and adjust seasonings again if needed. Serve hot.