If simplicity and elegance in the most satisfying dishes is beginning to appear as a theme in this blog, then this is no accident. The Greeks are as devoted to Avgolemono as the Provencal are to Bouillabaisse and the Portuguese are to Caldo Verde, and for all the same reasons; that a few virtuosic ingredients are allowed to play keening music together in one forthrightly orchestrated bowl.
Avgolemono is a simple soup of chicken stock, orzo pasta or rice, egg, and lemon. Smooth and piquant and charismatically persuasive, it rouses the appetite in an assertive, even bellicose way. And what does one do with a lemon-scented stock from a Greek roast chicken but put it to most urgent use as the basis for this most necessary soup.
This takes an hour or two because a fresh stock is made, so this is a good weekend dish. The preparation is straightforward, though, so it will allow plenty of time to put together hummus, souvlaki, and whatever other Hellenic stalwarts might follow this coup de main. This recipe serves six as a first course, but will make a marvelous light supper for four if served with a salad and crusty bread.
1 chicken carcass from a 2kg roasted chicken (with some meat left on it)
2 L water
2 carrots halved lengthwise
2 celery stalks
1 onion, halved (this can be the onion used to moisten a roast chicken during roasting)
2 bay leaves
2 tsp salt
1/2-3/4 C orzo pasta or rice
3 eggs, room temperature
Juice of two lemons, strained
Pick any useful meat from the chicken carcass and set it aside.
Combine the first seven ingredients in a stockpot. Simmer covered for an hour.While this is cooking, mince the meat reserved from the chicken quite finely and set aside.
Remove the vegetables to a bowl and set the chicken aside to glean any meat from the carcass. Strain the broth through a sieve into a large bowl, return it to the stockpot and return to the boil.
Add the orzo and cook for ten minutes until al dente.
While the pasta is cooking, whisk the eggs until frothy and then whisk in the lemon juice in a drizzle. Slowly add two or three ladles of stock from the pot, continually whisking, in order to temper the eggs.
When the pasta has cooked, turn the heat down to its lowest setting, add the reserved minced chicken meat, and once it has come back up to temperature, slowly stir in the egg and lemon mixture. Heat the whole for 5 minutes until it begins to thicken ever so slightly.
Serve it forth with a grating of fresh black pepper.
Traditionally this soup is served without the chicken meat added, but the minced chicken, in combination with the orzo, adds a toothsomeness to the dish that is irresistible.