I love the Chicken and Gnocchi soup at the Olive Garden, but it’s super dairy heavy and sometimes leaves me feeling a bit weighed down. This dairy-free version of everyone’s favorite soup is just as delicious, while being lighter and healthier. It’s also gluten-free! The secret to this recipe is the amazing dairy-free substitute I found for half and half. Read on to learn this little trick and to find out about one of my favorite childhood hobbies that I recently rediscovered!
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Note: This post was originally published on my food blog, A Bite of Inspiration (read more about it in this post here).
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A few days ago, I went outside around 7 am and there was a thin layer of fluffy, white snow covering the grass. When I went out to lunch at noon, I noticed the snow had completely melted and the first yellow flowers of spring were starting to peek out. The next day, it snowed again. Sigh—this is it. That awkward transitional period between winter and spring, where the weather doesn’t quite know what to do with itself. Last week, it was 70 degrees and now it’s back down to 20. Mother Nature is clearly having some issues letting go of winter.
Despite the frustration of not knowing how to dress for the weather right now, I do understand how Mother Nature feels. Similar to her, as excited as I am for the coming of spring, I always have to lament the end of winter fun. No more skiing, sledding, building snowmen, drinking hot chocolate by the fire…
When winter finally does give way to spring, the cold weather activity I will miss the most is definitely ice skating. I learned to figure skate from a very young age—the age of three, to be exact. I started taking figure skating lessons at the local rink a few years later and spent the better part of my childhood on the ice. I even took home a few ribbons! There was just something so freeing about gliding across the smooth, white ice with the blades of my skates glinting as I twirled. Super poetic, right?
Unfortunately, as I grew older, my interest in ice skating started to fade. I got busier with school work and friends—I didn’t really have time for it anymore. It’s kind of sad that life is so hectic at the ripe, old age of 14 that you don’t have time for your hobbies anymore, huh?
In order to make up for those years that I didn’t skate as a teen, I decided to try my hand (or, rather, my feet) at skating again this winter. I have to admit, I’m not as good as I used to be, but I still love it because it reminds me of my childhood—skating across the rink, happy and carefree.
One of my favorite meals to eat after ice skating was always the Chicken and Gnocchi Soup at the Olive Garden. It’s just so hearty and delicious—plus, it’ll warm you right up! It’s super rich and pretty much a meal in and of itself. Unfortunately, the original restaurant version contains gluten, so I haven’t been able to eat it since I was diagnosed with a severe gluten allergy. So, I decided to create a lighter version of my favorite soup without the common allergens of gluten and dairy. Now, I can enjoy it everytime I ice skate with no guilt! (I also have vegan and soy-free variations listed in the notes section of the recipe card.)
My copycat version of Chicken and Gnocchi soup is lighter and healthier, while still tasting very similar to the one at Olive Garden. The only difference is a hint of coconut that I think makes it even tastier. I recommend cooking this soup in a dutch oven for the best flavor, but you can also use a stockpot.
The biggest challenge in creating this recipe was finding a good substitute for half-and-half, the cream component of the soup. For this, I turned to one of my favorite resources for dairy-free tips, Go Dairy Free. If you even have a passing interest in dairy-free cooking, this handy site is a must! The Go Dairy Free “How to Substitute Cream” guide recommended mixing one-part coconut cream with one-part plain, unsweetened soy milk to make half-and-half. Genius! This little trick worked super well for this recipe.
In order to get the coconut cream, you need to allow two cans of full fat coconut milk (yes, it has to be full fat) settle for about 30 minutes and then you can skim it right off the top! The coconut cream is the white, thicker part of coconut milk that rises to the top when you let it sit, while the clear liquid stays at the bottom. I actually find that the coconut cream has already risen to the top when I open the can, so I usually don’t even wait the 30 minutes. It really depends on how much the milk has separated. It takes about two cans to get the 1 cup of coconut cream needed for this recipe. You mix your coconut cream with 1 cup of soy milk and voila! You have half-and-half! Pretty cool, huh?
This soup is creamy, flavorful and every bit as tasty as the Olive Garden original. Pillowy gluten-free gnocchi (I like Cappello’s , which is also Paleo friendly, or this one here), tender chicken, and tasty veggies with the perfect balance of warm spices—delicious! Whether you’re a fan of ice skating or not, this soup is guaranteed to bring you back to your favorite winter childhood memory. It’s the perfect way to bid adieu to winter as spring peeks around the corner.
Additional note: A few of my A Bite of Inspiration readers weren’t fans of coconut and didn’t like the subtle coconut flavor that the coconut cream lends to the soup. If you prefer the soup without the coconut flavor, feel free to use the second half-and-half substitute listed on Go Dairy Free. Just blend one cup silken tofu (like this one here) with one cup soymilk and you’re good to go! I’ve tried it this way and it does work well, although I personally prefer the coconut version. You do you! 🙂
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Dairy-Free Chicken and Gnocchi Soup (Olive Garden Copycat + Gluten-Free!)
This creamy and comforting Olive Garden favorite is now dairy-free and gluten-free! It's so easy to make and filling enough to be a meal. Check the recipe notes for a vegan variation! Ready in just 25 minutes.
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 2.5 cups chicken broth
- 2 cups dairy-free half-and-half (see recipe notes)
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 cup carrots, finely shredded
- 1 cup baby spinach
- 1 lb gluten-free potato gnocchi (see note)
- 1 cup cooked chicken breast, diced or shredded (see note)
- 3 tablespoons vegan butter
- 2 tablespoons arrowroot flour
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 onion, diced
- 3 celery stalks, diced
- Salt and pepper
Heat oil and butter in a large stock pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat.
Add onion, celery, and garlic to the pot. Cook for 4-6 minutes until veggies are soft and starting to brown.
Add dairy-free half and half. Stir well. Heat to a boil.
Once boiling, reduce heat to low. Simmer for 2-3 minutes.
Add chicken broth. Stir well.
Add thyme and and nutmeg. Stir well. Allow to cook for 1-2 minutes.
Add carrots and gnocchi. Cook for 4-6 minutes until gnocchi are done (cooking time could vary by brand-- follow package directions). Gnocchi are done when they have a pillowy texture and float to the top of the soup.
Stir in baby spinach and cooked chicken breast. Cook for 1 minute more then remove from heat.
Ladle out 1/4 cup broth into a small bowl. Whisk in arrowroot flour until it has completely dissolved and forms a slurry. Add the slurry back into the soup pot and stir for 2-3 minutes until it thickens.
Serve hot! Enjoy!
For the dairy-free half-and-half: Allow 2 (13.5 ounce) cans of coconut milk to sit until the coconut cream (the white, thicker part) has risen to the top. This could be right away when you open the can, or you could have to let it sit for up to 30 minutes. Skim the coconut cream off the top until you have 1 cup of coconut cream. Mix the coconut cream with 1 cup of plain, unsweetened soy milk until smooth. This half-and-half recipe was adapted from Go Dairy Free.
Alternative method for dairy-free half-and-half: If you're not a fan of coconut, you can blend one cup silken tofu with one cup unsweetened, plain soy milk. This recipe was also adapted from Go Dairy Free.
Vegan variation: Omit the chicken and use vegetable broth in place of the chicken broth. You can even add chunks of extra firm tofu in place of the chicken!
Soy-free variation: Replace soy milk with unsweetened, plain coconut or almond milk.
No gnocchi variation: If you can't find gluten-free gnocchi or don't want to use it, you can replace the gnocchi with diced potato. Just be advised that the potato will take longer to cook than the gnocchi. Cook until the potato is tender.
Varitation for those who can tolerate gluten: If you don't follow a gluten-free diet, you can make this same recipe using 3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour and regular potato gnocchi. The original recipe contained these ingredients and I later adapted it to fit my gluten allergy. If you use all-purpose flour, you can mix the flour in right after the veggies cook in step 2. Stir constantly for 30 seconds and omit the slurry at the end.
I used leftover, shredded rotisserie chicken for this recipe and it worked perfectly!
If you can't find gluten-free gnocchi at your local grocery store, I suggest ordering Cappello's (my personal favorite and it's Paleo friendly ) or Le Veneziane from Amazon. Both are great brands with clean ingredients!
I recently discovered Native Forest Simple Organic Coconut Milk and it's my new favorite! I love it because it has no guar or other additives. Plus, it's silky and delicious! Due to the lack of additives, it's usually already separated when I open the can, which is a bonus for this recipe. Just make sure you choose the one that says "Simple" specifically (their "Classic" coconut milk does have guar).