This weeknight chicken soup is one of my go-to recipes when I need something quick and comforting. It’s easy to throw together after a busy day.
This recipe–or some variation of it–is one I come back to again and again again. It’s as easy as anything to make and so comforting on a chilly night.
When I need to whip up something quick for dinner, orzo and ground meat are usually two of the things I go for first. Both of them cook quickly without much fuss. Ground meat is great because you technically don’t need to even thaw it. Don’t get me wrong, you should. But I know I can’t be the only one doing the weeknight scrape-and-flip shuffle with a block of frozen meat in the skillet that I keep flipping and scraping until I can break it apart. I’m not the only one, right? RIGHT?
This soup combines my two favorite busy weeknight ingredients: ground chicken and whole wheat orzo. I mentioned in my last post that I’ve been a fan of whole wheat orzo. Particularly in soup, I find whole wheat orzo holds its shape better. You can use white if you prefer, but try the whole wheat sometime! I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
How to make this weeknight chicken soup:
This recipe evolved from an evening of scrappy cooking to use up all odds and ends in my refrigerator, like the half-used container of mushrooms and the wilted celery. You can get creative with what you throw in here, and I’ve added a few suggestions below.
What you need
- Ground chicken. You can also use your favorite ground meat like turkey, lamb, beef, or pork.
- Spices. I spiced the chicken with lots of crushed red pepper, garlic powder, thyme, paprika, and black pepper. You can also use your favorite Italian seasoning here.
- Onion, mushrooms, celery, and spinach. These are the vegetables I used, but you can get creative here. You can throw in some carrots, leeks, fennel, or diced bell peppers. If you have a bag of frozen diced soup vegetables in your freezer, throw them in! Chopped kale or escarole would be fantastic in this.
- Canned tomatoes. I used a can of diced tomatoes, but crushed tomatoes or your favorite jarred tomato sauce would be good.
- Balsamic vinegar and sugar. The vinegar adds a nice depth to this quick-cooking soup. Sugar offsets any tanginess from the tomatoes.
- Orzo. I used whole wheat orzo, but ditalini or pastina would also be lovely.
- Fresh parsley: I add fresh parsley with the spinach at the end, but you can also use fresh basil instead. You can also skip it if you don’t have it; I’ve made it with and without parsley depending on what I have available.
- Mozzarella. This is optional, but I love throwing on some shredded mozzarella. Straight from the bag, people! No need to get fancy! Of course, if you want to finish with some good quality Parmesan, I won’t stop you, but I do love the mozzarella on this. If you wanted to do something fun, you could also buy a ball of fresh mozzarella, slice it into rounds, and arrange the rounds on top of the pot of soup. Drizzle them with a tiny bit of olive oil, and pop the pot under the broiler. Let it get nice and bubbly and browned. I think I’ll do that next time. You could also add a scoop of ricotta cheese to the pot of soup right before serving.
How to make it
- Step 1: Fry the chicken. Season it well with the spices and sauté until cooked through.
- Step 2: Cook up the mushrooms, celery, and onion until the mushrooms begin to brown around the edges.
- Step 3: Add the chicken back to the pot and add tomatoes and water. Bring to a boil and stir in sugar and balsamic vinegar. Simmer it for about 15–20 minutes.
- Step 4: Return the soup to a boil and throw the orzo straight in. If you’re worried about pasta swelling, cook the orzo separately and store it separately from the soup.
- Step 5: Throw in the spinach and freshly minced parsley once the orzo is tender.
That’s it! All you have to do is ladle the soup into bowls and serve it with a big handful of mozzarella on top.
- Soup pot
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pound ground chicken
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon dry thyme
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- Big pinch of crushed red pepper
- 1 yellow onion, peeled and diced
- 8 ounces cremini mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced
- 3 ribs celery, trimmed and diced
- 14.5- ounce can diced tomatoes
- 6 cups water or chicken stock, plus more if needed
- 1 teaspoon sugar, more or less, depending on your preference
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar; if your balsamic vinegar is very acidic, use 1 tablespoon instead
- 8 ounces whole wheat orzo
- 3 ounces baby spinach, roughly chopped
- ¼ cup fresh parsley, minced; plus a pinch reserved for garnish
- Shredded mozzarella cheese, optional, for serving
- Salt and pepper
Fry the chicken:
- Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Once hot, add the ground chicken and cook for 5 minutes. Season with garlic powder, thyme, paprika, a big pinch of crushed red pepper, salt, and pepper. Continue sautéing, breaking up the chicken as it cooks, for 10 minutes until it is cooked through. Transfer to a bowl.
Cook the vegetables:
- Add another teaspoon of olive oil over medium heat if the pot seems dry. Add the mushrooms, onion, and celery. Sauté for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Simmer the soup:
- Return the chicken to the pot. Add the diced tomatoes, 6 cups water, sugar, and balsamic vinegar. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes to allow the flavors to meld. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
Cook the orzo:
- Return the soup to a boil. Add the orzo and cook for 7–8 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent it from sticking. See note.
Finish the soup:
- Once the orzo is mostly tender, reduce the heat to low. Add the baby spinach and parsley. Simmer for 4–5 minutes until the orzo is tender. Taste and season.
- Ladle the soup into bowls. Garnish each bowl with more parsley and a handful of mozzarella on top. Enjoy!