This always happens to me. I come into some wild food and then I get a wild hair to make something genius with it in the kitchen. So I dedicate myself with so much time and energy that I overextend myself, producing mediocre results. Then since I’ve committed so much heart to it, I can’t stand to let the meal go unhonored or the story untold, so I produce such entries as Suillus Sludge Soup, and Everything Gnocchi without Moderation. The latter, from two days ago, recounts my fit of inexperienced potato gnocchi-making with a $1 markdown bag of potatoes that I swore I’d find a use for. Clearly I was overstimulated, unreasonable. And then of course afterward I’m drained, and less than satisfied with the results—so much work for what seems like so little gained.
I always forget to realize that the true prize comes later. A moment of genius strikes, a reward after so much hard work. If you honor it, and go with it, often some minute genius will result—like this recipe for chicken and nettle gnocchi soup. It’s really just a dumb little soup I threw together haphazardly while doing laundry and dishes and cleaning the house. I was making a chicken-carcass-rescue soup, and decided to throw in some of those pretty, green, dried nettle flakes leftover from the other night, as well as the nettle gnocchis.
Chicken & Nettle Gnocchi Soup Recipe
Small, leftover chicken carcass, picked, chicken bits separated
2 porcini bouillon cubes from Butter
Pulverized, dried nettle flakes
2 cloves garlic
1 pinch oregano
1 pinch marjoram
Nettle gnocchi (made with Urtica sp.)
Boil chicken bones in enough water to cover with porcini bouillon, ¼ onion, salt, pepper, 1 tbsp nettle flakes, oregano, and marjoram. Strain broth and pick remaining chicken bits from bones. Return broth to the pot and add the rest of the onion (sliced and cut into ¼ moons), zucchini (sliced and quartered), picked chicken bits, and 1 more tbsp dried nettle flakes. At the end, throw in nettle gnocchi to heat through. I’m sure any spice or wild substitution would be good in this, as long as you have the nettles and nettle gnocchi in there.
Chicken & Nettle Gnocchi Soup Reflection
The soup was a hit, through and through! Gregg liked the fact that the nettle in the soup corresponded with the nettle in the dumplings.
Gregg’s Nana, Myrtle—after whom our newest addition to the family, a 1983 Vanagon camper, is named, by the way—used to make chicken and dumplings. It wasn’t a soup but more of a gravy, spooned over a dumpling the size of a tennis ball. Because of it, Gregg really loves anything with dumplings in it.
As for me, as of last night, pulverized, dried nettles have earned a place in our spice rack. They have such a hearty flavor. Until I added them to it, the soup base was good—chicken and porcini with onions and garlic—but still missing something. The nettle was like a magical puzzle piece, a wild edible keystone that made the whole thing fit together.
It also helped the soup that the onions were sweet and thick and crunchy and copious, the zucchini—cooked to until it was just the slightest bit soft—had such a bright green rind and mellow flavor, and of course the very fact that there were dumplings in it.
So as for all that hard-fought mediocrity—it was not time wasted or efforts failed after all. It just took a little while for the ideas to marinate, and to produce better results.
As I once told my snowboard friend Andy—a young buck distraught over a crappy afternoon hitting rails in the terrain park when just the day before he was slaying the pro line with ease: “We all have our best moments, Andy. The rest is just working up to them.”
(Oy, I hope I haven’t talked this recipe up too much!)