Chicken Florentine soup with zucchini, mushrooms, potatoes and barley

To get this soup to the table, I began by enjoying a similar dish at a restaurant.
I liked it so much that I vowed to make it the next day! However, although the process began as normal, but than many twists, turns and mistakes arose,until I realized I had spent excessive time in the kitchen for this soup! Toward the evening though,I finally transformed the process, and felt it was truly worth my time when I warmed this creamy soup for lunch the next day.
My scenario began one evening at a restaurant with my husband. I wanted a soup, and saw Chicken Florentine on the menu;the waitress encouraged me,but even she didn’t know what the word “Florentine” meant.I tasted a small portion and loved it.
s I began the process the next morning,I felt excited to try a new soup, even though the weather was against the idea at 90 degrees! Soup in the summer; I didn’t plan on it.. Luckily too I had many of the ingredients, or saw that I could substitute, which I do often. I checked through dozens of my cookbooks. plus roamed the internet looking for soup with the word “Florentine” in it. Fresh ideas popped into my head as I reflected about what to add.
I know, I know it’s best to assemble ingredient ahead of time, like some people do. This is called “Mise en place”, a French term. I do that sometime, but here I didn’t do it too much; I just took off running.
The evening after my husband and I returned home from the restaurant I removed a package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs from my freezer and weighted it and was right on target!
The next morning I cut the single huge thigh into 3 portions. I poached the chicken in a few cups of simmering stock for 10 minutes. I often don’t poach chicken, believing that browning encourages a more tasty dish. However,I wanted to try this approach. Everything was moving along fine as I sauteed the carrots, onion and garlic, and my abundant supply of zucchini. (Zucchini in many dishes is what cooks do who grow them and it’s late August and their gardens overflow with mounds of thick green stalks.)
Yes, there were more cooking steps, which I’ll explain below. However, for me for the first time in decades, my soup didn’t thicken! What was wrong! I used heavy cream that the recipe required, I cooked a slurry,(an equal proportion of liquid and corn starch.) Nothing worked. I stirred and stirred! The soup tasted okay, however, it was watery. I stewed over how to fix it!
A few hours later, way past my normal 9:30 p.m., bedtime I concluded that I rushed the process, just tossing the cornstarch in a bowl with water. Was the water cool enough? I didn’t know it at the time but, I wasn’t focusing, paying attention. Perhaps the heavy cream boiled away!? I was disgusted, but finally pearl barley came to my rescue; it worked in this dish. Late that evening I combined 1 cup barley with 2 1/2 cup water. I covered the pot, and it simmered away! 50 minutes later I spooned toothsome,fluffy barley into the soup. Success!
My lessons through all this upheaval, is not to rush myself in the kitchen! Read all the directions carefully. And then read them again. Make sure it’s all clear to you. Go slowly as you travel new terrain. I’m glad I persisted. I eventually fixed my sinking soup and succeed with pearl barley, and other ingredients which I’ll share below. My method improved the soups quality, and even trumped the soup at the restaurant!
Now I know a bit about Florentine, where Florentine-type recipes originated and that’s in Florence,Italy!
At the end of September I’ll be traveling to Tuscany, Italy for twelve days to
study with several chefs and learn new cooking skills, the Italian way. I’ll keep you posted on my adventure on my blog in October.
And too, please share with me soups that you’re particularity fond of.

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut in 4-5 hunks
8 cups water or chicken stock, more if necessary
2 carrots, cut in chunks
1 onion, coarsely chopped
2 zucchini, cut in half-inch rounds
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 Teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon pepper
7 medium size Yukon potatoes, cut in thirds
4 garlic cloves, sliced or minced
8 oz. mushrooms, your choice, cut in halves
3/4 teaspoon oregano
3/4 teaspoon thyme
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 Teaspoons tomato paste
1 cup pearl barley
10 oz. coarsely chopped fresh spinach
2 ‘Old’ hunks of mostly used Parmesan cheese rind (optional)

PROCESS

1 In a medium sized pot, boil two cups of stock from the original 8 cups. Add the chicken pieces. Turn the heat down to a simmer and poach the chicken for 15 minutes. Remove the chicken, saving the broth, cut the chicken in bite-size pieces; let them cool on a small dish, set it aside.
2 In a large stock pot, heat the vegetable oil on medium-high heat. Add the carrots and onion and cook for 3-5 minutes as they turn translucent and turn slightly brown. Add half the amount of salt. Add the zucchini and cook 3-5 more minutes on medium. Stir in the tomato paste and cook it for 1-2 minutes, just to get it blended with vegetables. Reduce the heat, add the garlic and cook 2 minutes,being careful not to burn the garlic. Add the mushrooms, cover the pot, and cook 2-3 minutes longer as the mushrooms wilt and release their moisture.
3 In a separate medium size pot bring water to a boil, add the cut potatoes, and parboil them for 10 minutes, not cooking them totally through. Drain and set them aside.
4 To the large stock pot, add the remaining chicken stock and the small amount of broth that you saved from cooking the chicken. Bring the pot to a simmer,adding the barley. Cover the pot. Reduce the heat to low and cook about 45 minutes, or until the barley is mostly cooked,but still a bit toothsome. Add the rest of the salt. Before the barley is totally cooked, at about 35 minutes, add the potatoes and cook on low, uncovered. Return the chicken to the pot.
5 Add the cut spinach, and simmer on low for about 2-3 minutes as the spinach wilts. Stir in the thyme and oregano. Add the cream. If the soup appears too thick add a bit more stock. Adjust the seasoning and serve warm with cheddar biscuits and a sprinkling of smoky paprika.

Tips and Tweaks:

Adjust seasonings to your liking, try sage, which works well with poultry. Use a 1/2 teaspoon.

Instead of potatoes, replace it with regular long grain rice. Cook it separately, 1 cup rice to 2 1/2 cups water or stock. Add it at the end of step 4.

If you’re fond of celery, add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of it sliced and saute it with the carrots and onion.

Use chicken breasts instead of thighs.

For some kick, add 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper when you stir in the thyme and oregano. Try coriander, 1/4 tsp. to 1/2 tsp. to add more spice and a bit of peppery flavor.

Finally, toward the end of the recipe, after you have added the spinach, add some leftover cooked vegetables you may have in your refrigerator.

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