We’ve neglected dumplings! But these little gems are at home on many soups, not just chicken stew. AND, you can make them gluten-free, deliciously!
We really have neglected dumplings. No, not the yummy Asian dipping dumplings that we all love, but the little biscuit-like creations simmered on top of a soup or stew. New England cooking classics! This, of course, is not to be confused with the Southern dish with dumplings more closely resembling a thick egg noodle.
When I was growing up, my mother could whip up a batch of drop dumplings in seconds, and they topped many an otherwise plain soup. The instant side of bread seemed to cook magically atop the main dish. Of course they adorned the hearty chicken stew, but they had a welcome home on other dishes as well, so I chose this beautifully scented fennel and leek soup to highlight a Parmesan version.
Mémé’s basic recipe
The dumpling recipe was originally my French-Canadian grandmothers. She made them with white flour, and did not add any additional flavor beyond salt and pepper, but the changes I made are not enormous. He recipe used butter, almost like a traditional biscuit, while most dumpings omit this and use just the baking powder. I think the addition of the butter is an asset. Mémé didn’t just use this recipe for savory dishes, but also for her sweet maple simmered dumplings!
Mom’s always made these dumplings, her mother’s recipe, on a chicken stew, above, the classic chicken and dumplings, Northern style. They were quick to make and hearty.
For my recent version, I used half white whole-wheat flour to bump up the nutrition, and added a little more flavor on its own. The Parmesan works really well with the fennel and leek in the soup, and the hint of heat from the extra pepper really perks this up.
A few false starts
The evolution of this classic remake saw a few dismal failures along the way. First, I tried to use all whole-grain flour, but the dumplings were a bit too dense, not the soft little pillows of flavor I wanted. I also added way too much Parmesan the next time around, and the dumplings melted into the broth! A delicious miss, but too much fat made them melt. However, the broth was really good, so my husband did not consider this a failure at all; not a keeper, we were looking for nice soft dumplings, with a fluffy, well- cooked center.
I settled on a half-and-half formula with the flours, and just a quarter cup of the Parm in the dough. However, I sprinkled more Parmesan over the top of the dumplings and into the broth, which was the perfect touch. A Parmesan rind rescued from the freezer, gently enhanced that flavor even more.
Almost instant broth
Equipment note: I used my electric pressure cooker pot to make the stock for this since I had prepped the veggies earlier in the day, and I’d never tried it to make broth. I cooked it on the broth setting for what the pot told me I should, 25 minutes, and it came out quite nice. The 25 minutes is, of course, on top of the time to bring it up to pressure. This method did extract good flavor, but I’m not sure this saved a whole lot of time! I’ll probably just use my stove top stockpot the next time.
You can also use a boxed stock, or even just water, because we all know the aromatics will create their own broth! I think we’ve gotten a bit spoiled with the lure of the quick broth sitting on the shelf or in the freezer, when sometimes, just using water and a little longer simmer will accomplish the same depth of flavor. After all, the leeks, fennel, onion, and celery are all the aromatics we use in a stock!
This makes a lot of dumplings. I eat one, but my husband eats three, so plan accordingly.
Fennel & Leek Soup with Parmesan Pepper Dumplings
2 large leeks, sliced
2 large bulbs fennel, sliced, reserve some fronds to garnish
1 medium onion, sliced
2 ribs of celery, diced
2 tsp. fennel seeds
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large potato, diced
8 cups of water or vegetable stock
1 large bay leaf, fresh if you can find it
A few strips of lemon zest
Salt & pepper to taste
Juice of one lemon
A Parmesan rind if available
Prep your veggies. Cut off the dark green, tough leaves of the leeks, but keep the tender inner layers underneath. Rinse them really well, they often harbor lots of dirt. Slice the cleaned leeks.
Slice your onion and the fennel thinly, reserving some of the fronds for later garnish.
Make a stock from the vegetable scraps from the leeks, fennel, onion, and celery if you like. If you have a lot of celery leaves, throw them in the pot as well along with a bay leaf. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for a half hour. All this is not essential, but you will feel like a good planetary citizen by making the best use of all parts of these vegetables. It is surprising how quickly this can become a habit.
Now, for the soup. In a large Dutch oven, sauté the leeks, fennel, and celery in a little olive oil until they soften, but do not brown them. Make a little well in the center, and add the garlic and fennel seeds and cook until fragrant, a minute or two.
Add the stock or water, the potato, bay leaf, and zest. If you have a Parmesan rind tucked away in your freezer, this is a good place to use it. Although not to be consumed, it will add a lot of flavor to the broth.
Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for a half hour to 45 minutes so all the ingredients can marry.
Top with the dumplings and a little more Parmesan, and continue cooking according to the dumpling directions below.
Serve in warm bowls, with a little of the fennel fronds scattered about, and a squeeze of lemon over all.
Parmesan and Pepper Dumplings
1 cup white whole-wheat flour
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 tbsp. baking powder, non-aluminum
Scant tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, plus some for topping
1/4 cup cold butter, cut into small cubes
1 cup cold milk
Mix together the flours, baking powder, salt, pepper, and cheese. Work the butter into the flour mixture with your fingers. Add the milk, and with a wooden spoon, quickly bring the dough together without over mixing.
Use a small scoop (mine holds about 1 1/2 tbsp.) to drop the dumplings on top of the simmering soup. You can also use a tablespoon from your kitchen drawer, but the scoop makes them uniform so they will cook evenly.
Sprinkle with a little more Parmesan, or a lot more, and let some of the Parmesan fall into the broth. Yum! Cover immediately and set timer for 20 minutes. Absolutely no peeking allowed!
Serve in warmed bowl, with garnish of fennel fronds and a squeeze of lemon on top.
Substitute 2 cups of gluten-free baking mix for the flours. I used King Arthur Baking Mix. That’s it! These come out slightly smaller than the wheat version, but equally delicious! I was delighted!
© Copyright 2019 – or current year, Dorothy Grover-Read, The New Vintage Kitchen