I hope it’s cool where you live because it’s definitely time for soup. Of course it’s time for soup nearly any day of the year at my house, but cold nights and shorter days somehow find me bending over more often to pull out the soup pot. Just feels right or I need the exercise–one of the two. Perhaps one of the happiest things about seasons changing is how grateful we are to begin cooking meals perfectly suited to the weather. Think cookies at Christmas, grilled burgers come spring, pies in November, fresh vegetable salads in summer, or…soup in October. We sort of know where we are in life because of what’s on the stove–or even by what’s in front of the grocery store.
Soups run the gamut from a quick chop and whirr in the food processor with no cooking at all (see my Spicy Cucumber and Feta above) to an all-afternoon simmer that warms the house and hearts while engaging all olefactory senses in the process (see my Slow Cooker Smoked Turkey and Bean below).
Today’s Italian Sausage-Butternut Squash Tortellini Soup falls somewhere in the middle with only an hour’s prep and cooking time–just enough minutes to fill the house with its “I Want That” aroma.
BUY ITALIAN CHEESE AND FRENCH WINES RIGHT NOW; THE TARIFFS FOR THESE AND OTHER IMPORTED TREATS LIKE SINGLE MALT SCOTCH GO INTO EFFECT OCTOBER 18, AND INCREASE THE PRICES BY 25%.
Making use of fresh or frozen cheese tortellini from the grocery or Italian deli, this hearty meal only requires a glass of wine to make it complete. You might also choose dry, shelf stable tortellini, though it will take longer to cook; check package directions.
I often enjoy faster soups making the best of easy and accessible prepared ingredients such as a rotisserie chicken from COSTCO, pre-chopped ingredients, crab in a can, pre-cooked brown rice for the microwave, or the fresh pasta used here. The other side of that short-cut cooking equation is to keep a full pantry and freezer.
HOW LONG DOES COOKED CHICKEN LAST IN THE FRIDGE? 3-4 days. Shred and freeze if not using soon.
HINTS FOR FASTER MEALS: Stock items like canned beans, coconut milk, tomatoes and broths, dry beans and grains, frozen shrimp, ground meats, boneless chicken thighs, sausages, and vegetables. Figure out a few favorite dinners made from on the shelf and/or in the freezer ingredients and keep those products on hand for quicker, anytime dinners. Replace them once you’ve used them!
While I have a bit more time these days than many cooks and make fine use of that blessing, I have no trouble remembering what it was like trying to get dinner on the table for a family after working all day. For me, then and now, I love the food processor to make short work of some of the vegetables–see the photo above. I couldn’t live without my favorite chopping machine and always keep a spare in the garage. Additionally, my fridge is never without carrots and celery, as well as fresh green veggies and greens. The larder, likewise, doesn’t feel complete without onions, shallots, garlic, and potatoes. These things change a little according to the season or what was available or on sale.
Buy double the amounts of ingredients to stir up this pot of warmth now and again in a month’s time. Freeze the ground meats and perhaps buy frozen cheese tortellini as it keeps better than fresh. Don’t make the soup and freeze it, because while it will freeze and eat, soups with pasta or potatoes aren’t perfect candidates for long storage. Potatoes are mushier after freezing and pasta grows and expands, often disintegrating. If you want to make and freeze for another day, cook without tortellini. Then cool, freeze in sturdy containers, thaw, heat to bubbling, and add the tortellini right before serving. Most soups, including this one, include some wiggle room for switching or leaving off ingredients. Pumpkin or even acorn squash might work for butternut squash or you could use all carrots if that’s what you have. Not a fan of fennel? Throw in chopped cabbage in its place or a handful or two of fresh spinach just before serving. Need to cut calories or cash? Sub dry whole wheat elbow macaroni for the tortellini. Gluten-Free? Skip the pasta and cook up some brown or wild rice– or maybe even quinoa. Vegetarian? Skip the meat, use veggie broth, and add a little more tortellini. But, really, whichever way it’s made, you’ve got to try this:
Italian sausage-butternut squash soup with tortellini
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½- pound each: ground lean turkey and bulk Italian Sausage OR 1# Turkey Italian Sausage
- Medium onion diced
- 2 stalks of celery diced
- 1 small fennel bulb trimmed, cored, and diced (can sub 1 cup chopped cabbage)
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- Handful minced fresh parsley
- 1 teaspoon each: dry thyme and rosemary or double the amount if using fresh
- 1 ½ teaspoons dry rubbed sage or a tablespoon of minced fresh sage leaves
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 4 cups 32 ounces low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- 6 cups water or more if needed to keep soup bubbling and brothy
- 2-3 drops hot sauce such as Tabasco
- 2 ½ cups diced butternut squash 12 ounces
- 2 medium carrots trimmed, peeled, and sliced into ¼-inch coins
- 8 ounces fresh cheese tortellini
- GARNISH: ½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano 2 ounces
- GARNISH: ¼ cup minced fresh chives
- In an 8-quart soup pot, heated for two minutes over medium flame, add the olive oil and let heat for another minute. Crumble in the meat; cook about 5 minutes, stirring, OR until about half-cooked. Tip in the onion, celery, fennel, and garlic. Season with the salt and pepper, parsley, thyme, rosemary, and sage; stir well. Cook, stirring regularly, until the vegetables are tender and there’s no pink remaining in the meats.
- Pour in the white wine and let simmer until half the wine has evaporated. Stir in the broth, water, and hot sauce; bring to a boil. Add the squash and carrots, reduce heat to a low boil and cook 13-15 minutes or until the squash and carrots are nearly tender. If the soup becomes too thick, add a little more broth or water.
- Stir in the fresh tortellini, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook about 5 minutes—or according to package directions. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot garnished with cheese and chives. Store quickly cooled leftovers in containers with tightly-fitted lids for 3-4 days in the refrigerator. Not well-suited for freezer storage.
After I made my soup, I checked to find a recipe for a slow cooker soup using tortellini. You might follow these basic directions if you’d like to use the slow cooker for my soup. I haven’t tried it, by the way.
WINE: A California zinfandel loves nothing better than Italian sausage, so that’s one idea if red is your thing. If you’d like something lighter, try a (white) Pinot Gris from Oregon.
Looking ahead to next month…
If the cooler weather is making you think about the holidays, you can get a head start on Thanksgiving–Thursday, November 28– by making and freezing pie dough and homemade rolls in the next week or two if you’re a baker. Make-ahead vegetable or whole-meal casseroles or stews tossed into the freezer are another way to take away some of the free-floating anxiety. My God; what’ll they eat? It’s easy to forget folks eat all week during holidays and a pot of chili or tray of lasagna might really come in handy. Plan the menus now and create at least a couple of shopping lists–one for way ahead and one for right before. Buy staples now, clean the oven, make room in the freezer, have the carpets cleaned, and polish up windows a few at a time over the next few weeks. Order extra wine glasses, napkins, and decorations sooner rather than later for a more peaceful season. Christmas shopping? Aargh. Let’s not even think about it!
Check out this More Time Plan to read and get you started: Thanksgiving: Start Early; Finish Late
Need a Thanksgiving Cookbook? Here’s my list of favorites.
AROUND THE HOUSE…
My longtime favorite local grocery store, King Sooper’s (Kroger), has been in a state of gradual and not-so-gradual change for the last few years. Lots of the changes have been for the better–improved cheese and deli selections, increased local produce choices, more organic meats, and a growing kitchen equipment and tableware section. Given the 20-25 minute or more drive from my house to Whole Foods or to a department or kitchen store, I’ve been completely grateful and King Sooper’s has had much of my business. Need a peeler? Put it on the grocery list. (I buy a new one every year before Thanksgiving.) Want French brie? No more hour travel time the day before a dinner party.
Other adjustments haven’t proved so pleasant as the better selections and larger populations mean more crowded stores and parking lots. Employees driving large multi-shopper carts (orders for pick up or delivery) take up more room in the aisles, as do stand alone displays and larger end caps. Sometimes I can’t find a place to park and drive on. Recently a large number of checkout aisles disappeared, replaced by self checkout stations. I’m happy to scan a few items on a fast run through the store, but a checkout clerk, I’m not. In fact, I’m terribly slow at it. (How to ring up parsnips? Gift cards? Coupons? Did my favorite, longtime checker friends lose their jobs?) If I have a buggy full of food, you can bet I’m not scanning and bagging all of those groceries. I have my job; they have theirs and I want them to do it. That’s why I go there.
My choices for a weekly big shop now seem to be pick up or delivery, come several times a week for smaller orders, or change stores. Since, as a cook, I like to grocery shop, I’m somewhat broken-hearted. Perhaps it’s part of the entire retail structure’s current dynamic. Big box, high-end, and/or cut-rate shopping seems to be the thing–including for groceries. Online buying is on the upswing; while brick and mortar stores are closing, restaurants are opening. Everywhere I turn, there are new restaurants enticing folks out of their home kitchens and into more expensive and often unhealthy eating habits. I love to go out to eat, though it’s becoming overwhelming.
Convenience may be king, but I don’t have to like it. I guarantee what masquerades as progress isn’t always progressive.
What are you seeing and feeling about grocery stores or food shopping and restaurants near you?
Cook at home for health, wealth, and happiness and, of course, spend more time at the table,
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