Italian Chicken Soup with Parmesan Dumplings

Published May 1, 2013. From Cook's Illustrated.

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Why this recipe works:

Passatelli—dumplings served in a light chicken broth—mainly comprise bread crumbs, egg, and Parmesan cheese. In our recipe, egg whites keep the texture light and airy and bind the bread-and-cheese dumplings. Chicken fat adds richness. To eliminate the need for a special tool, we shaped the… read more

Passatelli—dumplings served in a light chicken broth—mainly comprise bread crumbs, egg, and Parmesan cheese. In our recipe, egg whites keep the texture light and airy and bind the bread-and-cheese dumplings. Chicken fat adds richness. To eliminate the need for a special tool, we shaped the dumplings into balls before poaching them in doctored store-bought chicken broth.

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Italian Chicken Soup with Parmesan Dumplings

Light, tender dumplings deeply flavored with Parmesan? Sounded like a winner. But while we were at it, we also wanted to turn this traditional Italian first course into a full meal.

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Serves 4 to 6

Use the large holes of a box grater to shred the Parmesan. To ensure that the dumplings remain intact during cooking, roll them until the surfaces are smooth and no cracks remain.

Ingredients

  • 4 (5- to 7-ounce) bone-in chicken thighs, trimmed
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 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
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 Parmesan cheese rind, plus 3 ounces Parmesan, shredded (1 cup)
  • 2 slices hearty white sandwich bread, torn into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • Pinch ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 small head escarole (6 ounces), trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Instructions

  1. 1. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

    4. 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.

    5. Working with 1 teaspoon dough at a time, roll into smooth balls and place on parchment-lined sheet (you should have about 28 dumplings).

    6. 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, until dumplings float to surface and are cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in 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.

Technique

Bread-Crumb Dough

Turning bread crumbs into dough is a little like trying to extract soup from stones: On their own, they don’t have what it takes. Because crumbs are already cooked, they don’t have the ability of raw flour and water to form the gluten bonds that give a flour based dough its strong, pliable structure: The gluten is already set. So how do our passatelli dumplings stick together? We combine the crumbs with egg whites, which coagulate during cooking and form a network that holds the crumbs in place. At the same time, moisture from the whites hydrates the starches in the crumbs. This forms a sticky gel that acts as a glue.

Technique

Adjusting the Dumpling

Our Italian-style dumplings combine the nutty Parmesan taste of traditional passatelli with the shape of matzo balls and their secret weapon for savory flavor.

PASSATELLI: In Italy, a dough made of bread crumbs, Parmesan, egg, and beef marrow is extruded through a special tool.

MATZO BALLS: Matzo balls are formed by hand out of matzo meal, egg, and chicken fat.

OUR HYBRID: Instead of hard-to-get beef marrow, we add extra cheese and chicken fat to boost savory flavor and hand-roll the dough into plump balls.

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