First off, it was a Monday. This is, only on the rarest of occasions, a good thing. And never simply because it is a Monday. Maybe it's Christmas on a Monday, or the first day of your honeymoon, or the day you won the lottery. But you're never going to wake up and be glad just because you wake up with a monstrous "M" on your calendar. Secondly, I was in a terrible mood. Partly because of that whole Monday business. The mere existence of "work" didn't help, either. Then there was the weather. After days and days of strange but adored sunshine and warmth, God remembered that Portland is supposed to be miserable this time of year. So entered the wind. And sleet. And downpours. And darkness. And freaky sonic boom that finally turned out to be a lonely pipe bomb.
It was the perfect storm to stir up a cardinal craving for soup.
We were planning on having soup today anyway. We just had no idea how perfect our planning was. We were cruising through Trader Joe's this weekend, and Matt picked a pack of gnocchi out of the noodle section. "I have an idea," he said, which, when it comes to food, is usually either a stroke of genius or just something else he wants to wrap in a tortilla. "We could try and make that soup like they have at Olive Garden."
Oh yes, the beloved Soup, Salad and Breadsticks sensation that is loved at lunch hours everywhere. I work right next to an Olive Garden, but with only a lunch half hour, I rarely get to experience the sensation. The disconnected, heartlessly pepper grinding waitstaff doesn't have a flair for urgency. Whenever we find ourselves there on a weekend though, I take full advantage of the opportunity. The Chicken and Gnocchi soup is my hands-down favorite, and has caught the heart of Matt as well with a few stolen bites (for his meal he opts for something more seriously substantial, like the Tour Of Italy Triple Bypass Platter).
I was very glad that this suggestion was the former, and began plotting my copycat.
The prep to make this soup is marginal. It is easy to do on weeknights, even bad ones. The celery and carrot hacking helped relieve some of my misguided aggression, and stirring the ever-thickening pot was a Zen meditation that was richly rewarded. All I needed to do was plan slightly ahead, and everything was almost ready to go. On a night like tonight, it worked happy wonders that takeout never could. We sat down, both of us grinning at our cunning alchemy, and the rich steam evaporated with our daylight cares. After an extra helping, we were both a little more in love with each other, and the world. And isn't that the entire reason we eat together in the first place?
1 Costco rotisserie chicken, pulled apart with no skin
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, finely diced
3 celery stalks, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 small bunch of kale, chopped
2 cans of Cream of Chicken soup
1 can of Cream of Mushroom soup
1 canful of thick milk (probably whole)
2 canfuls of water
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
3 sprigs of thyme, leaves plucked from the stem
1 tablespoon of finely chopped basil
1/2 tablespoon dried rosemary (or fresh... I went out and found my plant was dead :'(
1 package of premade potato gnocchi
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons of butter
Heat olive oil and butter in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, thyme and rosemary, season with salt and pepper and let soften while occasionally stirring for about 8 minutes. Add the celery and carrots. Stir to coat with oil and butter. Cook for 3 minutes, then add the wine. Allow it to absorb and evaporate. Add chicken stock, bring to a boil and cook for several minutes, until the celery and carrots begin to get tender. Turn the heat to a low simmer. Add the cream soups, water, milk and chicken. Allow to slowly cook and marinate for 45 minutes to an hour. About 20 minutes before serving, add the kale. 10 minutes before, stir in the gnocchi. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve topped with a sprinkling of red pepper flakes, and warm, crunchy garlic bread.