Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Creamy Chicken and Spinach Meatball Soup with Fluffy Dumplings

After basking  in the after-dinner glow of noshing on these wonderful little morsels of chicken meatballs in a delectable creamy spinach and leek soup with mounds of light, fluffy dumplings to sop up the soup, I am saddened.  Saddened because there won't be any leftovers tomorrow! haha!

Like me, you may rethink ever eating beef meatballs again! okay, maybe not. But they're SO good.

Before you start anything, thaw a 10oz package of frozen spinach, put it into a mesh strainer and strain that spinach the best you can. Squeeze, squeeze, and then squeeze it some more. It's very important to get the spinach dry as possible so your meatballs don't fall apart and your soup isn't watery. So do this first, then let the spinach hang out in a strainer over a bowl. By the time you're ready for it, it'll be pretty dry and good to go.

Be sure to clean your leeks. Little bits of dirt and sand get caught up in the layers and layers of the leek. I've found the quickest way is to slice them in about 1/2 inch slices, or less, and put them in a large bowl (or salad spinner) of water. Swish them a round, separating the layers, then let them sit a minute. The dirt and sand will sink to the bottom and the leeks will float. Salad spinners are awesome and time savers for this step!

for the meatballs (makes 25-28 small):
  • extra-virgin olive oil, about 2 Tablespoons, for browning meatballs
  • 1 lb of ground chicken
  • 1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
  • 2 Tablespoons plain breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup chopped spinach, drained and squeezed VERY well
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tablespoon grated onion (with the juice, I just grate it over the chicken in the bowl)
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 clove garlic, grated (again, just grate it over the chicken in the bowl)
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried Thyme, crushed a bit
  • kosher salt and pepper, few pinches each

for the soup:
  • 32 oz box chicken broth
  • 2 leeks, sliced, cleaned and drained. (I use the light green part too, just like on green onions/scallions)
  • 1 cup sliced celery
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced carrot, fairly thin so it cooks with everything else
  • 1/2 cup chopped spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed VERY dry
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced fine or grated
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon dried, crushed thyme. I used 1/2, but that may be a wee too thyme-y for some people. Scale it back if you aren't sure.
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 Tablespoon cornstarch

dumpling instructions to follow.

       Combine ground chicken with 2 Tablespoons breadcrumbs, spinach, egg, grated onion, parmesan, grated garlic, dried thyme, and a few good pinches of salt and pepper. Use your hands and gently combine all. Mixture will be wet.

Chill for a few minutes, about 5-10 minutes.

Mix the 1/2 cup of plain breadcrumbs with a healthy pinch of salt, some pepper, and the Italian seasoning.

Using a small ice cream scoop (for about one inch balls), scoop small meatballs and drop into breadcrumbs to coat.  I find it easier and less messy to drop the meatballs from the scoop, right into the breadcrumbs, coat them and then gently roll them between my palms just a bit to give them a little shape. You don't want to take too much time rolling them in your hands. They won't be firm like ground beef meatballs.
Put them in one layer on a plate.

When all meatballs are made, put them into the fridge to chill while you heat up a heavy bottomed pan with a lid like a dutch oven.  If you don't have a lid, use a round pizza pan. Works great! You need something that won't allow steam to escape for the dumplings.

When pan is hot over medium-low heat, add about 2 Tablespoons of olive oil carefully. Evoo can spit when too hot.
Brown meatballs, trying not to fuss with them too much or they'll break up. Browning just two sides is fine. Don't cook the meatballs all the way through.

Be sure not to crowd the pan. It may be necessary to cook the meatballs in two batches.
Add more olive oil, if needed to keep balls browning and the bottom of the pan from burning.

Remove browned, but not all the way cooked, meatballs and set them aside.

Add 2 Tablespoons of margarine or butter to the pan after you've removed the meatballs.

Add carrots, celery, thyme, and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Cook and stir around a bit for about 3 minutes or so. Enough to give the carrots a head start.

Add leeks, spinach, garlic, and pinch more of salt and pepper; cook and stir a couple minutes.

Turn heat up to medium and add chicken broth and all but about two tablespoons of the milk and bring up just to a boil, then reduce heat to low. So that it simmers, but not so hard as to make it stick to the bottom of the pan.

Mix cornstarch with the leftover milk until cornstarch is dissolved and stir into soup.  Keep stirring until soup starts to thicken a bit.

Carefully add the meatballs to the soup.

While soup returns to a nice simmer, make the dumplings.

 for the dumplings:
I use a shortcut! I adore Bisquick dumplings. They're light and fluffy and just perfect every time!
(no, I don't work for them, nor do I know anyone who does, and I don't get paid to say that! LOL)

2 cups bisquick (yellow box, just the good ol' fashioned kind)
2/3 cup milk

Put bisquick in small bowl and make a well in the center. Pour in the milk all at once. Stir with a wooden spoon just until all the liquid is absorbed and you have a soft dough. Dip a tablespoon measuring spoon into the hot, simmering soup to scoop out little spoonfuls of dough onto the soup. Works perfect this way and no mess! Except for having to use your finger sometimes. :)
Just like that.
Don't worry about overcrowding your pan. As long as the soup is simmering gently and your pan is covered, with no peeking!, you'll get soft, fluffy dumplings.

Keep the lid on for 10 minutes, or until the dumplings are dry on top. I topped mine with more parmesan cheese.
Dinner's ready! YUMMY!

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