Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hutson's Tortellini Soup or Make it Again, Alyce

The finally- finished product... or some version of it

What about making a soup that's light, but filling and is done in under an hour? I made two versions of this soup recently and the recipes are original if the idea is not. Like everything else in the world, it's probably on the internet, but I don't know about it. I'll google later. Here's how it started:

A year or two ago, I chatted up a lady at the grocery who was buying turkey Italian sausage (I use this for hamburgers) and we compared notes about what a versatile meat this was. She admitted to me that when her kids and grandkids returned home to visit, she always made tortellini soup that used the sausage for a base. (Note to self: try this some time.)
The other day, I finally began trying out this soup with the idea of feeding some friends who recently had a new baby. On the same day, one of my students was coming to lunch and, as anyone would, I, of course, decided to make one meal for both occasions with enough left over for our own supper. Once upon a time, there was a book called, SIMPLE PICTURES ARE BEST. That title became a phrase in our house and continues to this day, along with "You will like them, you will see; you will like them in a tree" or whatever variation thereof needs to be stated that day. You fill in your blanks on that one.

Surely this was the simple way to feed folks for three meals. One big pot, some homemade rolls and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (see May blogs.) Right. It ended up taking nearly seven hours to complete not one version, but, naturally two because of my inability to plan my time correctly. Well, I did take time out (while another batch of bread dough was rising) to have a two-hour lunch with my student friend. Joys of working at home. Thanksgiving for friends, weather, money for food..............

Since I had until 12:30 to get the first round done, I thought I had plenty of time to drink coffee, watch the news, read the paper, wash my hair and so on. What was I thinking? Naturally, I had only half of the ingredients (not knowing for sure the day before if I was or was not cooking for everyone) and had to go to the grocery store. I didn't return until 10am when I began making homemade chicken stock................... Definitely could make a quick version of my stock and have the soup (whose recipe was as yet unknown) done by 12:30. Sure I could!

Getting a 16qt pot full of water, chicken and vegetables to boil at sea level is one thing; getting it to boil at altitude is another. Half hour later, it's not yet boiling and I'm getting nervous. I come to the conclusion that if this soup is to be ready for lunch, I'm going to have to make it a very different way and it had better be pretty fast now.

Going to a restaurant was looking pretty good, but aren't I the person who writes a blog about feeding people at home? Run to the garage pantry to check my stock of boxed stock and am gratified to see I have stocked up recently. (Have I used the word stock enough in one sentence? Did you think it could be done?) Mind in fast gear; moving quickly......

Brown turkey Italian sausage

Throw skinless chicken thighs into by now boiling stockpot to cook
Chop onions, garlic, celery ; brown with sausage. Drain fat.
Add boxed stock........Find fresh herbs. Run to deck; run back.
Chop other veg; taste........... (not bad) What else should go in here?

And so on. The soup barely got done and the pasta was very al dente when my friend walked in the door. Still, the deck table was set; there was sunshine. A pitcher of iced green tea with mint from the side garden was set out on the table. First batch of rolls was out of the oven. Lunch! No dessert yet, but prayers were answered, she arrived with perfectly ripened strawberries (needing nothing). Leave it to a gardener. She adored the soup, boxed stock and all. Note here: I used partly totally unsalted boxed stock, now available. Season to your own taste! Second note: the cheapest boxed broth in town is at Whole Foods..their store brand. (Cheapest oj, too) Odd little note, but good!

After my friend left (what is there about two women at lunch and how much they can talk...now that I think about it, there's even a song about "Here's to the Ladies Who Lunch," but I'm SURE we're not like that.) I had to figure out the second soup, clean up after the first, make the cookies, roll out and bake the next batch of rolls........... I couldn't believe I had been so stupid that I not only had to cook twice, I had to clean up twice. Obvious not a trained chef. Onward and upward...........

I strained the big pot of real stock, shredded chicken (no deboning; it fell off), pureed all of the long-cooked vegetables and put them back in the mix, set the stock back on the burner to reduce and intensify the flavors and went to work on the next batch of whole wheat rolls (another blog). To force the second rise, I threw them in an oven I had preheated to 200 and then turned off.
Next: cookies. By the time they were done, it was absolutely barely enough time to get the soup for the new baby family done. (I ended up being 20 minutes late.) I chopped all of the same vegetables again and once more threw them into a stockpot. Deja vu.

At 4:45 (dinner due at 5 at their house), the pasta was going in along with the green beans. The green beans, and they can be famous for this, WOULD NOT get done. I think I packed it all up with them still kinda crunchy. Soup, bread, cookies, ah, yes, wine, too. Made it----well, made it late, anyway.

Still, they got their dinner (enough for 3 days maybe) and my husband took me out for a drink downtown to breathe for a half an hour. Later, we heated up the leftovers from the lunch version and were, I'll tell you, pretty glad to get it. My husband said, "I could eat this every day!" (Main fan) I haven't heard yet from the baby family, so don't know if that batch was edible. Still, I'm guessing they're ok as I haven't heard otherwise. Here's a version of the recipe using whatever stock or broth you have. Needless to write a recipe for homemade stock; google Ina Garten's chicken stock or some such thing! The big difference between most stock recipes and mine is that, if it's a rustic sort of soup, I puree and put back in the vegetables that have cooked in the stock. I also like to let it sit overnight and remove the fat that has hardened at the top; I think it's easier than defatting it any other way.

Hutson's Tortellini Soup
4-6 servings

1/2 # Turkey Italian sausage, bulk (or take out of casings if link)
1T olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped coarsely
1 small red onion, chopped coarsely
4 stalks celery, chopped coarsely
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c chopped fresh parsley
2 1/2 qts chicken stock of your choice
1 15 oz can crushed tomatoes (or half a can Italian tomatoes, my choice)
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp Herbes de Provence
1/4# fresh green beans, trimmed and chopped into 2" pieces
2 carrots, cut into matchstick pieces
1 parsnip, cut into matchstick pieces
Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper
4 or more shakes of hot sauce
9-10 ounces fresh tortellini
2 c fresh spinach leaves
1/4 cup fresh basil chiffenade-topping
1/2 c fresh zucchini, minced-topping
1/2 c parmesan cheese, freshly-grated-topping
In large stockpot, brown Italian sausage and break up with wooden spoon. After about half-browned, add onions and celery. Cook until vegetables are soft and sausage is done. Drain off almost all of the fat. Add garlic and parsley Pour in stock and bring to a boil. Add chicken thighs, herbs, carrots, parsnips and salt, pepper and hot sauce. When thighs are done, remove and shred with forks or cut up with a knife and return meat to pot Add tortellini and fresh spinach. Cook 8-12 minutes, according to package directions, until tortellini are almost tender. Turn off heat. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Ladle into large bowls and top with fresh basil, minced zucchini and fresh cheese (or pass those three things at the table.)
Wine: I like a nice California zinfandel with this, but a light chianti might suffice!
Dessert: See blog-----
Note to those of you who say to me, I'll cook one of your recipes when I have time.....I am thinking about you. I seldom put anything on this blog that is not a pretty quick recipe for a meal. I also know I have more time than many people! So, if I can make something more "instant" for you, I'll do it occasionally. In this recipe, you can hasten the entire thing by these changes:
1. Heat already-cooked meatballs or sausage intead of using raw meat.
2. Sub a bag of frozen veg for fresh.
3. Sub a can of onion soup for onions and celery.
4. Sub prepared pesto for fresh basil.
5. Sub jarred garlic for fresh.
Grow, Hutson!!
Sing a new song,


  1. I'm totally going to try this recipe. It sounds wonderful and I have to take dinner to two friends next week.

    Brett makes chicken stock for us, but he hasn't ever pureed the veggies and put them back in. I'll have to try that also. He makes stock and then freezes it. Can you do that with the pureed veggies?

    I happend to see Hutson's dad after you brought them dinner. He commented how delicious your dinner was :-)

  2. I'm so glad you think it sounds good; it was! Actually, we ate it again the next day and it was better!
    Yes, add the veggies back in to freeze--works well. Luvya, A.


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