My ninety-eight year old plus mother loves order and hates chaos. She is precise and unwavering about everything – the way she runs her family, her house, her kitchen. And for her, there is only one way to prepare for holidays: she cooks a week, two weeks, sometimes a month ahead, freezing the rugelach, the chicken, the plum pies, but never, never the matzo balls.
Just before she turned 90, my mother switched from using a whole chicken, to chicken legs in her chicken soup because she finds more flavor in the legs, and besides, the legs are often on special in her supermarket. From an Italian restaurant in Providence, she learned to swirl in escarole at the last minute, before she adds her matzo balls.
6 whole chicken legs
20 Cups water
2 celery stalks sliced into 2 inch chunks
2 whole carrots cut into 2 inch chunks
1 large onion peeled and quartered
1 parsnip cut into 2 inch chunks
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
8 Ounces escarole
3 Tablespoons chicken fat or vegetable oil
6 Large eggs, separated well beated
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 3/4 Cup(s)s matzo meal
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
12 Cup(s)s water
To Make the Soup:
1. Put the water in a soup pot, add the chicken legs and bring the water to a boil Simmer slowly for 2 hours, uncovered, skimming off the fat and foam as they rise to the top of the soup.
2. After 2 hours, add the celery, carrots, onion, parsnip, dill and parsley. Continue cooking slowly, uncovered, for another hour.
3. Set a strainer over a large bowl and strain the soup. Season it to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate the soup, covered, overnight.
4. The next day peel off the layer of fat that has formed on the soup’s surface. Bring the soup to a boil in a large pot (or freeze it for another day). Before serving, swirl in the escarole and add the matzo balls (recipe follows), cooking for a few minutes.
To Make the Matzo Balls:
1. In a medium bowl, mix the chicken fat or vegetable oil with the eggs, salt, nutmeg, matzo meal and parsley. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
2. Bring the water to a boil in a large pot. Take the matzo mix out of the refrigerator and, after dipping your hands into a bowl of cold water, gently form balls the size of large walnuts. Add salt to the water, and drop in the balls. Simmer slowly, covered, for about 20 minutes, remove from water with a slotted spoon, and add to the soup.