August 11, 2011

Chicken and Gnocchi Soup

While in Cedar Rapids last weekend, we met Juli's son at the big downtown farmer's market, then took him out to lunch.   He wanted to go to the Olive Garden.   While we are not at all a fan of the West Des Moines Olive Garden (we've found the service to be indifferent and the food fair at best), from past experience we knew the food served up at the Olive Garden in Cedar Rapids was pretty good.   I had a bowl of their chicken and gnocchi soup.  It was really quite good... creamy, with nice chicken flavor, tender gnocchi and simple but balanced seasoning.  I was so pleased with the soup, I decided then and there to come up with my own version once we got home.

Olive Garden's Chicken and Gnocchi Soup

I looked around online and found a couple different recipes claiming to be like the one used at Olive Garden.  Using those recipes and my memory of the soup, I put together a working recipe, then tried it out.

As you can see, my soup doesn't look quite like the version served at Olive Garden.  The biggest difference is that in mine, the chopped spinach imparted a slight green tint to the soup.  Other than that, the two are an awfully lot alike, and what differences there are - a slight variance in seasoning, mostly - do not result in either being superior to the other.  Mine turned out a bit thicker, and I'm guessing this is because I cooked the gnocchi in the soup, vs. adding cooked gnocchi to the soup, but since I like thick soups, I consider that a plus, if anything. 

I should note that I used frozen gnocchi purchased at a supermarket.   I have several gnocchi recipes I've been wanting to try out some day, but I didn't want to put in the effort needed to make fresh gnocchi in order to make the soup.
While my version isn't identical to what I had at Olive Garden, I'm quite pleased with it.  Hopefully you will be just as pleased.

Chicken and Gnocchi Soup

yield = 7-8 servings

4               boneless, skinless chicken breasts
                 table salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
2               tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2               carrots, peeled and grated on the small holes of a
                    box grater
1               small yellow onion, peeled and grated on the large
                    holes of a box grater
1               celery stalk, trimmed and finely diced
2               teaspoons minced garlic
1               tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
4               cups low-sodium chicken broth
2               cups half-and-half
2               tablespoons chicken soup base
1               pound potato gnocchi
1               tablespoon corn starch, dissolved in one
                   tablespoon water
1 1/2         cups chopped spinach

Thoroughly dry the chicken breasts with paper towels and sprinkle on both sides with salt and pepper.  Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering.   Arrange the chicken breasts in the Dutch oven.   Let them cook until well-browned on one side (about 6 minutes), then turn them over and brown them on the other side.   Transfer the chicken breasts to a cutting board.

Add the second tablespoon of olive oil to the Dutch oven.   When the oil is shimmering, add the carrot, onion and celery stalk.   Cook, stirring often, until the onion is translucent.  While the vegetables cook, chop the chicken breasts into small pieces.

Clear a spot in the middle of the pan, add the garlic and thyme, and cook about 45 seconds, then stir in with the vegetable mix.  Add chicken broth, half-and-half-and-half and chopped chicken.  Heat to boiling, then add the gnocchi.   Boil 4 minutes, then reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.    Stir in cornstarch mixture.  Taste and add additional salt and pepper, if needed, to taste.

Stir in the spinach and cook 2 minutes.  Serve with a crusty bread or garlic bread. 

Our go-to ingredient for adding chicken
flavor:  LB Jamison's Low Sodium Chicken
Flavored Soup Base.

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