When Marco Polo left Venice near the end of the 13th century and sailed east to discover the exotic treasures of the Orient, I'm pretty sure he didn't realise his legacy to the world would be spaghetti. This fellow spent 24 years on an epic journey, which he later dictated to a cellmate after being locked up by the Genoese at war with Venice. The account of his travels runs to four volumes and is an immensely important historical document, but all I want to know about is the pasta.
The story goes that Polo heads to Cathay (now China), finds everyone eating noodles, thinks it might be interesting to take them back to Italy and, hey presto, spaghetti is born. Whether true or apocryphal is irrelevant; it's so tasty a proposition that it persists, and in our truth-free, fake news world, it's as good as anything else we've got. So I'm sticking with it: Italian cuisine is actually more chow mein than ciao.
But noodles and pasta, as well as their obvious physical and nutritional similarities, have something else in common, and that is their ability to make us happy. We, and the scientific community, have known for a long time that there is a direct connection between these refined, complex carbohydrates and the pleasure receptors in our brains and central nervous systems. Simply put, noodles get you high. Not high in the way sugar does but they tell your brain via a couple of chemical changes and messages to release the good stuff, the serotonin, which, in my experience, is as effective as anything else in giving you that mellow feeling that life is nice.
It's no wonder, then, that chicken noodle soup is considered by many to be a legitimate remedy for colds, pains, soul-ache, heartache and more. It should be prescribed on the NHS it's so good. It is also no accident that, in the kosher canon, chicken matzo ball soup is often described by its fans as "Jewish penicillin", those glorious dumplings (and a stock made from chicken feet) doing wonders for the nephesh.
So this, the fifth recipe in my collection of absolute classics, is both compulsory and essential. It is what you make for your girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband when she/he is feeling below-par, under-the-weather or simply miserable. It has astonishing restorative qualities and even if you think you're feeling OK, it'll pick you up, too. You can thank Marco Polo.
Better still, preparation time is 5mins and cooking time is 20mins, so you can rustle this up faster than the time it takes to rue a Deliveroo.
CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP
• 1 free range chicken breast fillet, skinless
• 2 free range chicken thighs, skinless
• 100g egg noodles
• 1.75ltr chicken stock
• 8 large shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
• 1 large carrot, peeled, sliced into tiny strips
• 1 red chilli, deseeded and thinly sliced
• 1 clove of garlic, peeled, finely chopped
• Small tin of sweetcorn, about 80g drained weight
• Small bunch of spring onions, finely sliced, green sections included
• Small chunk of ginger, size of a grape, finely chopped
• Handful of mint leaves, roughly sliced
• Soy sauce
• Black pepper
1. Put the stock into a very large saucepan with the chicken, garlic, half the chilli, the carrot and ginger. Bring slowly to the boil and then reduce to a simmer for 15mins.
2. Keep simmering the soup but remove the chicken meat onto a clean chopping board. When cool enough to handle, using a very sharp knife, slice the thighs as thinly as possible and return to the saucepan. Using two forks pulling in opposite directions, shred the breast and return that, too.
3. Now add the mushrooms, spring onion, sweetcorn and noodles with a couple of good splashes of soy sauce. Cook gently for another 5mins until the noodles are soft.
4. Ladle out into large, warmed bowls with the remaining chillies, evenly scattering the chopped mint and finishing with a twist of black pepper. Leave the soy sauce bottle on the tabl