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Gnocchi are thick, soft pastas made from semolina ordinary wheat flour, flour and egg, flour, egg, and cheese, potato, breadcrumbs, or similar ingredients. Some associate gnocchi with potatoes, but the use of potato in gnocchi occurred only after the introduction of the potato to Europe in the 16th century. The word gnocchi may derive from the Italian word nocchio (meaning a knot in wood) or perhaps from nocca (meaning knuckle).

Like many Italian dishes, there is considerable variation in recipes and names across different regions. Gnocchi are most often eaten as a first course (primo piatto), as an alternative to soups like minestrone, or pasta. They are generally home-made in Italian and diaspora Italian households. In supermarkets, industrially produced packaged gnocchi are widely available refrigerated, dried, or frozen.

Chicken Gnocchi Soup

1/4 cup butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ onion, finely diced

2 celery stalks, finely diced

1 carrot, finely shredded

4 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

16 ounce half-and-half

2-14 ounce cans chicken broth

1/2 teaspoon salt to taste

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon dried parsley flakes

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

5 ounce fresh spinach leaves, coarsely chopped

1 pound (2 cups) diced cooked chicken breast

16 ounce package ready-to-use gnocchi

Melt the butter into the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, carrots, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion becomes translucent. Whisk in the flour and cook for about 1 minute. Whisk in the half-and-half. Simmer until thickened. Whisk in the chicken broth. Simmer until thickened again. Stir in salt, thyme, parsley, nutmeg, carrots, spinach, chicken, and gnocchi. Simmer until the soup is heated through. Before serving, season with additional salt, if necessary. Serves four.

Although Chardonnay may seem to be an obvious choice to pair with this soup, the nutmeg and spinach make for a slightly different twist in the flavor profile. I would suggest pairing this with a Pinot Grigio. While most believe Pinot Grigio originated in Italy, it was born, like many of the most popular grapes of the world, in France, where it is known as Pinot Gris.

Pair this delicious soup with Toccata’s 2017 Santa Barbara County Pinot Grigio. This Pinot Grigio was grown in their cooler Goodchild vineyard along Foxen Canyon Road. This vintage was picked early and bottled young to preserve its fresh and lively qualities. Carefully tended in the vineyard and nurtured in the winery, these pinot grigio grapes produce the subtle aromas of lemon peel, jasmine tea and pear. The wine is crisp with natural acidity developed in the grapes while growing in this cool climate. It is light and delicate with a bright finish. This pinot grigio will be a fine complement to a variety of light dishes, salads, fruit, and cheese, as well as this Chicken Gnocchi Soup. Enjoy!

John David Finley is a free-lance writer and author of the cookbook, Sacred Meals from our Family Table, which features Santa Barbara County wines. He can be reached at sacredmeals@comcast.net.

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