These are the days when food sites thrill to charms of seasonal eating. Tastes like summer! Perfect for picnics! Summer in a bowl! Summer on the grill! I wasn’t expecting a hot brothy pot to figure into this line of tropes, but here it is: chicken soup for summer.
Then again, it should be no surprise. America loves chicken soup. Homemade or store-bought, it’s always at the top of most-popular lists. It lives up to its hype as comfort food, healing food, healthful food. Recipes can take hours or minutes, and they welcome modification. The stock can be rich and flavored or light and clarified, but plant-based add-ins are the elements that distinguish chicken soup’s seasons: kale and roasted garlic in the fall, hearty leeks in winter, carrots and dill in spring.
This one-pot chicken soup relies on the summer calling cards of lemon, tomato and zucchini. Oddly enough, the flavor of chicken takes a back seat. Instead, the bite-size chunks of lean meat lend texture and pair naturally with the light pasta element of slippery orzo. Each bowlful gets topped with a helping of basil pesto, which seals the deal, summerwise.
Slurp it up warm or even at room temperature; it’ll be fine. Leftovers morph into stewy territory, as the orzo tends to absorb the broth after a day’s refrigeration.
Chicken Orzo Soup with Pesto
Who’s eating chicken soup, even in hot weather? You are, when it’s nice and light like this one-pot version.
Serve with cornbread.
Make Ahead: For best flavor and texture, leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 1 day.
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast halves or thighs
32 ounces low-sodium chicken broth
One 14.5-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)
3/4 cup dried whole-wheat orzo pasta (may substitute regular dried orzo)
1 medium zucchini or yellow squash, or half of each kind
Freshly ground black pepper
4 to 6 tablespoons basil pesto, for serving (store-bought or homemade)
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 1/2-inch dice, or coarsely chop, to yield 1 1/2 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 1 1/4 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.