by Sarah Waldman » Photographs by Elizabeth Cecil
A hearty vegetable soup and biscuits for a spring that is slow to arrive.
Most people like to think spring means blue skies, daffodils, and breezy dresses, but we New Englanders know that most of the time it means rain, mud, and a seemingly endless stretch of overcast skies. Here on Martha’s Vineyard our transition from frost to thaw and icicles to buds takes awhile. Even when off-island towns are blanketed with tulips and forsythia, the island, especially the up-island towns, is still mostly twigs and piles of dead leaves.
Despite the slow beginning, I am always happy when I start to notice new signs of spring, such as a freshly constructed bird’s nest on the porch, louder bird songs in the morning, or the announcement of still more baby lambs from the farm down the road. This is the time of year when my family craves a cozy, warming meal at the end of the day, but also one that celebrates the island’s long-awaited spring produce and seasonal freshness. This recipe for Lemony Chicken Soup with Leeks and Fennel is the best of both worlds—a bowl of warming supper that is packed with greenery, bright lemon, and fresh herbs. Because in our house it’s all about what you’re dunking into your soup bowl, I’m also sharing our recipe for simple Buttermilk Biscuits, which only requires six ingredients and 30 minutes.
Spring certainly has magic to share—rebirth, new growth, and an invitation to start again. I encourage you to take these seasonal lessons into the kitchen and get cooking!
Lemony Chicken Soup with Leeks & Fennel
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Rub chicken with a drizzle of canola oil then season with salt and pepper. Place chicken skin side up on a baking sheet and roast until chicken meat is no longer pink at the bone and the juices run clear (about 45 minutes). An instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the breast meat should read 165 degrees F (75 degrees C). Set cooked chicken aside to cool. Once the chicken has cooled enough to be handled, shred the meat from the bones with your hands and set aside. Pour any pan drippings into a dutch oven or large soup pot.
Heat the dutch oven with pan drippings over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, fennel, garlic, and leeks. Season with salt and pepper, and cook—stirring occasionally—until the vegetables soften (about seven minutes). Add the cubed potatoes, red-pepper flakes, and chicken stock to the pot and season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer. Once the soup is simmering, add in zest and juice of two lemons, dill, and scallions. Cover and let the pot simmer until potatoes are cooked through (about 10 minutes). Lastly, add in the shredded chicken to reheat. Taste for seasoning and, if you like, add more lemon, red-pepper flakes, salt, or pepper. Serve with buttermilk biscuits.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place the flour, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add the cubed butter and continue to pulse until the butter is the size of peas. Transfer the mixture into a large mixing bowl.
Make a well in the center of the mixture and pour in the buttermilk and honey. Using your hands, combine everything but do not overwork the dough. The dough should be shaggy and crumbly.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured countertop, and using your hands, gently work it into a rectangle. Using a rolling pin, softly roll the dough into a one-inch thick rectangle large enough for 9 to 11, three-inch circle biscuits. Cut biscuits out using a biscuit cutter or the rim of a drinking glass (a large mason jar works well). Press the cutter down and back up, without twisting the dough. Combine scraps to form another one-inch piece of dough to cut out as many biscuits as you can.
Arrange the discs in a cast-iron skillet so that the edges touch one another. Brush the tops with the remaining buttermilk. Bake in preheated oven until the tops are golden brown (about 15 minutes). If you have leftover biscuits, they can be covered tightly and stored at room temperature for up to five days.