Happy New Year! I hope you had a great holiday season. I had a fabulous one. We went back home to Illinois to spend Christmas with our family. Seven kids, eight dogs and assorted adults all led to a busy and memorable time. It was so much fun until I got home and came down with a cold. I haven’t had one in a very long time and I attribute it to the sniffling, sneezing children that I was around for an entire week. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. And I’m glad to be back on my feet and in the world of the living.
Perhaps this little health hiccup inspired my next recipe. I don’t know about you but when I have a cold or am not feeling up to par I immediately think of soup. Mostly I think of chicken soup, but this time I wanted something different hence this particular recipe. There’s something about a warm bowl of soup when you’re not feeling well that’s very comforting, like a soft warm blanket. It somehow just seems to make you feel better.
I never really got into making homemade soups until the last couple of years. I’d just open a can and warm up whatever I bought at the grocery store. What I’ve learned over time is homemade soup is very easy to make, doesn’t take a lot of time plus you control what goes into it, especially the salt, which tends to loom large in canned soups. So I’ve been venturing more into making homemade soups and truly enjoying it. And for the novice cook, this is a way to look very impressive without a lot of hard work. So don’t shy away from making soup.
Let’s talk Tortellini White Bean and Sausage Soup
Lesson Learned 1 – I learned the beauty of chicken sausage: When researching various recipes I came across one that used chicken Italian sausage. I never tried that before, and sometimes I am leery of the flavor of chicken and turkey substitutes for beef or pork but decided to give it a go in this recipe. I was glad I did. It was divine!
The important thing to note is that you must cook the sausage before putting it into the soup. You do this for a couple of reasons. First and foremost the soup does not cook long enough for the sausage to be fully cooked by the time the soup is finished. Second, by cooking it ahead of time you get that nice browning on the casing which you wouldn’t get if you simply boiled the sausage. So remember to cook the sausage first because once you add it to the soup you are basically just heating it through.
Lesson Learned 2 – I added tomato paste to thicken the soup: I noticed when I was making the soup the broth seemed a little lackluster – kind of thin and unexciting (if broth can be unexciting). I decided to add a 6 ounce can of tomato paste and was glad I did. The paste made the broth thicker and more luxurious. You can choose to leave it out if you like but I would recommend adding it to the recipe.
Lesson Learned 3 – Slightly mash the white beans: After you rinse the beans and before you add them to the soup give them a slight mash with a hand masher. You don’t want to do too much, just a little. This along with the tomato paste helps thicken the broth.
Lesson Learned 4 – Kale versus Spinach: A lot of similar recipes I researched recommended adding kale to this type of soup and you can certainly do so. I don’t know about you but I’m not a big fan of kale – it just tastes funky to me no matter how it’s prepared. So I opted for spinach and it was great. The choice is yours – you can certainly use kale if you like but if you’re like me and not a big fan, spinach is a wonderful substitute.
Lesson Learned 5 – Don’t be afraid to improvise: A recipe like this is ripe for improvisation. I used a tri-color three cheese tortellini but you an certainly choose any kind you like. I used chicken Italian sausage but if you’re skeptical a more traditional sweet Italian sausage will work. Or you can make sausage meatballs. If you want to spice it up a bit you can always add a little red pepper flakes or some cayenne pepper. When I warm up my leftovers I’m going to put some parmesan shavings on top. Even if you’re a novice cook, don’t be afraid to add your own touches or adjust the ingredients to your taste. Cooking is not like baking, you don’t need to be exact. Step out of your comfort zone and try a few things. You’ll be happy you did.
Tortellini White Bean and Sausage Soup
4 cups low sodium chicken stock
1 cup water
1 – 14.5 oz. can of Italian style diced tomatoes
1 – 6 oz. can of tomato paste
1 package (13.5) oz. refrigerated tortellini (I used tri-color three cheese)
1 pkg. (4 links) Italian chicken sausage, fully cooked
2 cans 15 oz. cannellini beans, drained, thoroughly rinsed and lightly mashed
4 cups fresh baby spinach
In a large saucepan combine stock, water and tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Add the tomato paste and stir until completely incorporated. Add the tortellini and cook on a gentle boil for approximately two minutes. Add the sausage and beans. Bring to a low simmer and cook for about 10 minutes. Add the spinach. Cook for approximately two minutes or until the spinach is completely wilted. Serve with a salad and crusty bread. Refrigerate any leftovers.