I had you at “parmesan dumplings,” didn’t I? You’re not wrong, they are amazing.
I felt the urge to make soup even though we are experiencing freakishly warm temperatures in Chicago lately. Like, 55 and sunny. In Chicago. The place they make tedious, unfunny snow jokes about. The place where snow brought down a mayor. So we’re all wandering around lost and confused amidst the gentle caressing January sunshine like beer-pong hooligans disgorged from a Wrigleyville sports bar at closing time. What do we wear? How should we act? Why can I still feel my fingers? Which alley should we puke in? (←That part’s just the bros).
What should we eat? We could actually grill but it seems deeply inappropriate so let’s eat warm, comforting soup like it’s 15-below.
I was unsure about how wonderful this would be as I was making it. I mean, it’s chicken soup, right? How is it going to impress me? Turns out “easily” is the answer. I don’t know if it’s the simmering with a rind of parmesan or what but there is depth of flavor and umami for days going on here. And the dumplings! I don’t think there are any bad dumplings but these are extraordinary due to more parmesan and a judicious amount of schmaltz. I was also skeptical that the fennel bulb would taste like anything other than wet celery but it’s fantastic, as is the escarole. Next time I might add a few more carrots for color and cuz I love ’em.
You will need a bit of time for this dish but in return you get a lot of soup. Four bowls were consumed the first night (two each) with enough left over for at least four more lunches.
A couple notes: 1. I used Better Than Bouillon Chicken Base, which is CI’s highly-rated store-bought broth and I love it because a jar keeps forever in the fridge. Of course if you have homemade stock it will take this to a level of culinary ecstasy I can’t even fathom. 2. You may wonder, as I did, why in tarnation they ask you to cook skin-on chicken thighs and then discarding the skin. I believe it’s meant to produce enough fat for the rest of the recipe but I could not bear to throw it away. Did I cook the skin a little more and nibble on it as I finished the soup? No way of knowing but If you want to judge I ask you first to toss four pieces of golden crispy chicken skin into the bin and not shed a tear.
Italian Chicken Soup with Parmesan Dumplings, Cook's Illustrated, May 2013
1 fennel bulb, 1 tablespoon fronds minced, stalks discarded, bulb halved, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 onion, chopped fine
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
½ cup dry white wine
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 Parmesan cheese rind, plus 3 ounces Parmesan, shredded on the large holes of a box grater (1 cup)
2 slices hearty white sandwich bread, torn into 1-inch pieces
2 large egg whites
¼ teaspoon grated lemon zest
Pinch ground nutmeg
½ small head escarole (6 ounces), trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add chicken, skin side down, and cook until well browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer chicken to plate. Discard skin (or make sure it's cooked through and EAT IT).
Drain off all but 1 teaspoon fat from pot and reserve 1 tablespoon fat for dumplings. Return pot to medium heat. Add fennel bulb, onion, carrots, and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables soften and begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Add wine and cook, scraping up any browned bits, until almost dry, about 2 minutes. Return chicken to pot; add broth and Parmesan rind and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until chicken is tender and registers 175 degrees, about 30 minutes. Transfer chicken to plate. Discard Parmesan rind. Cover broth and remove from heat. When cool enough to handle, use 2 forks to shred chicken into bite-size pieces. Discard bones.
While broth is simmering, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Pulse bread in food processor until finely ground, 10 to 15 pulses. Measure out 1 cup bread crumbs and transfer to parchment paper–lined rimmed baking sheet (set aside remainder for another use). Toast until light brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to medium bowl, reserving sheet and parchment, and let bread crumbs cool completely.
Pulse shredded Parmesan in now-empty food processor until finely ground, 10 to 15 pulses. Transfer Parmesan to bowl with cooled bread crumbs and add reserved 1 tablespoon fat, egg whites, lemon zest, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, and nutmeg. Mix until thoroughly combined. Refrigerate dough for 15 minutes.
Working with 1 teaspoon dough at a time, roll into smooth balls and place on parchment-lined sheet (you should have about 28 dumplings). You really want to make sure they are smooth and cohesive at this stage to prevent them falling apart in the soup.
Return broth to simmer over medium-high heat. Add escarole and chicken and return to simmer. Add dumplings and cook, adjusting heat to maintain gentle simmer (very important not to have too high a simmer for the sake of the tender little dumplings) until dumplings float to surface and are cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes. Garnish with fennel fronds. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.
TO MAKE AHEAD: Prepare recipe through step 5. Refrigerate broth, shredded chicken, and dumplings separately for up to 24 hours. To serve, proceed with step 6 as directed.