CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Chicken Orzo Soup With Pesto

Pesto is often associated with pasta. So it stands to reason that the basil-based sauce would be a nice fit for chicken noodle soup or the like.

I recently came across the following recipe, which was adapted from one in “Better Homes and Gardens Quick Homemade: Fast, Fresh Meals in 30 Minutes” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019).

It’s not your mother’s chicken noodle soup, but if you are looking for something that’s tangy and tasty and can be on the table in a very short time, this isn’t a bad alternative.

Chicken Orzo Soup with Pesto
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast halves or thighs (can substitute pheasant)
32 ounces low-sodium chicken broth
14½-ounce can diced tomatoes, preferably with basil and garlic (may substitute 2 medium tomatoes, hulled and 1 teaspoon minced garlic or the same size can of no-salt-added diced tomatoes)
¾ cup dried whole-wheat orzo pasta (may substitute regular dried orzo)
1 medium zucchini or yellow squash, or half of each kind
1 lemon
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 to 6 tablespoons basil pesto, for serving
Trim/discard excess fat from the chicken, then cut the meat into bite-size chunks, placing them in a large saucepan as you go.
Add the broth, tomatoes and their juices and the orzo; bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low; cook for 7 or 8 minutes, stirring a few times.
Meanwhile, rinse the zucchini or squash and trim/discard the ends. Cut into ½-inch dice, or coarsely chop, to yield 1½ to 2 cups.
Grate 1 teaspoon of zest from the lemon (about half a lemon’s worth) directly into the pot, then cut the fruit in half and squeeze in 1 tablespoon of its juice. Stir in the zucchini and/or yellow squash and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until tender. The chicken should be cooked through.
Taste, and season lightly with salt and pepper if you are using the basil-and-garlic-flavored tomatoes; season with about 1¼ teaspoons salt and a few grinds of pepper if you are using fresh or no-salt-added tomatoes.
Divide among individual bowls; top each portion with the pesto (to taste).
Cut the remaining lemon into wedges, for serving.
Make ahead: For best flavor and texture, leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 1 day.
Yield: Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis (based on white-meat chicken, no-salt-added tomatoes and whole-wheat orzo): 380 calories, 13 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 90 milligrams cholesterol, 590 milligrams sodium, 32 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams dietary fiber, 6 grams sugars, 35 grams protein.

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