A Bite Inspired by… Ice Skating:
I love the Chicken & Gnocchi soup at the Olive Garden, but it’s super dairy heavy and sometimes leaves me feeling a bit weighed down. This dairy-free version of everyone’s favorite soup is just as delicious, while being lighter and healthier. The secret to this recipe is the amazing dairy-free substitute I found for half and half. Read on to learn this little trick and to find out about one of my favorite childhood hobbies that I recently rediscovered!
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A few days ago, I went outside around 7 am and there was a thin layer of fluffy, white snow covering the grass. When I went out to lunch at noon, I noticed the snow had completely melted and the first yellow flowers of spring were starting to peek out. The next day, it snowed again. Sigh—this is it. That awkward transitional period between winter and spring, where the weather doesn’t quite know what to do with itself. Last week, it was 70 degrees and now it’s back down to 20. Mother Nature is clearly having some issues letting go of winter.
Despite the frustration of not knowing how to dress for the weather right now, I do understand how Mother Nature feels. Similar to her, as excited as I am for the coming of spring, I always have to lament the end of winter fun. No more skiing, sledding, building snowmen, drinking Spiced Hot Chocolate by the fire…
When winter finally does give way to spring, the cold weather activity I will miss the most is definitely ice skating. I learned to figure skate from a very young age—the age of three, to be exact. I started taking figure skating lessons at the local rink a few years later and spent the better part of my childhood on the ice. I even took home a few ribbons! There was just something so freeing about gliding across the smooth, white ice with the blades of my skates glinting as I twirled. Super poetic, right?
Unfortunately, as I grew older, my interest in ice skating started to fade. I got busier with school work and friends—I didn’t really have time for it anymore. It’s kind of sad that life is so hectic at the ripe, old age of 14 that you don’t have time for your hobbies anymore, huh?
In order to make up for those years that I didn’t skate as a teen, I decided to try my hand (or, rather, my feet) at skating again this winter. I have to admit, I’m not as good as I used to be, but I still love it because it reminds me of my childhood—skating across the rink, happy and carefree.
One of my favorite meals to eat after ice skating is the Chicken & Gnocchi Soup at the Olive Garden. It’s just so hearty and delicious—plus, it’ll warm you right up! It’s super rich and pretty much a meal in and of itself… paired with a few of those famous Olive Garden breadsticks, of course! Yum!
Although Chicken & Gnocchi Soup is the perfect meal to replenish and warm myself up with after skating, it is very heavy on dairy products… and just heavy, in general. I have a slight dairy intolerance, so I try to avoid dishes with large amounts of heavy cream as much as I can. Since I couldn’t let go of my favorite soup, I decided to create a non-dairy version, so I can eat it every time I ice skate with no guilt!
My copycat version of Chicken & Gnocchi soup is lighter, healthier, and completely dairy-free, but it tastes exactly the same as the one at Olive Garden. The only difference is a slight hint of coconut that I think makes it even tastier. If you’ve read my Buttery Maryland Crab Pie post, you know that I love my Le Creuset Dutch oven. I used it to make this soup and it worked perfectly! You can also use a large stock pot.
The biggest challenge in creating this recipe was finding a good substitute for half-and-half, the cream component of the soup. For this, I turned to one of my favorite resources for dairy-free tips, Go Dairy Free. If you even have a passing interest in dairy-free cooking, this handy site is a must! The Go Dairy Free “How to Substitute Cream” guide recommended mixing one-part coconut cream with one-part plain, unsweetened soy milk to make half-and-half. Genius! This little trick worked super well for this recipe.
In order to get the coconut cream, you need to allow two cans of full fat coconut milk (yes, it has to be full fat) settle for about 30 minutes and then you can skim it right off the top! The coconut cream is the white, thicker part of coconut milk that rises to the top when you let it sit, while the clear liquid stays at the bottom. I actually find that the coconut cream has already risen to the top when I open the can, so I usually don’t even wait the 30 minutes. It really depends on how much the milk has separated. It takes about two cans to get the 1 cup of coconut cream needed for this recipe. You mix your coconut cream with 1 cup soy milk and voila! You have half-and-half! Pretty cool, huh?
This soup is creamy, flavorful and every bit as tasty as the Olive Garden original. Pillowy gnocchi, tender chicken, and tasty veggies with the perfect balance of warm spices—delicious! Whether you’re a fan of ice skating or not, this soup is guaranteed to bring you back to your favorite winter, childhood memory. It’s the perfect way to bid adieu to winter as spring peeks around the corner.
- 2.5 cups chicken broth
- 2 cups dairy-free half-and-half (see recipe in notes)
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 cup carrots, finely shredded
- 1 cup fresh baby spinach
- 1 lb potato gnocchi
- 1 cup cooked chicken breast, diced or shredded (see note)
- 3 tablespoons vegan butter (I like Earth Balance Original Buttery Spread)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 onion, diced
- 3 celery stalks, diced
- Salt and pepper
- Heat oil and butter in a large stock pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat.
- Add onion, celery, and garlic to the pot. Cook for 4-6 minutes until veggies are soft and starting to brown.
- Add flour and stir for 30 seconds.
- Add dairy-free half and half. Stir well. Heat to a boil.
- Once boiling, reduce heat to low. Simmer for 2-3 minutes until soup starts to thicken a bit.
- Add chicken broth. Stir well.
- Add dried thyme and nutmeg. Stir well. Allow to cook for 1 minute.
- Add carrots and gnocchi. Cook for 2-3 minutes until gnocchi are done.
- Stir in baby spinach. Cook for 1 minute more then remove from heat.
- Seve hot! Enjoy!
I used leftover rotisserie chicken for this recipe and it worked really well!
You can also make a vegan version of this soup by omitting the chicken and using vegetable broth in place of the chicken broth. You can even add chunks of extra firm tofu in place of the chicken!