Monday, April 11, 2011

Last Soup of the Season

I'm very ashamed of my surplus of canned tomato chunks.  I blew through all of my tomatoes last year in just a few winter months, but this year they've stuck around, neglected and almost-forgotten.  True, we just didn't make as many giant pots of spaghetti or vats of chili as before.  No particular reason, but the subtle shift in our hearty season menus has affected the practicality of my canning shelf.  As a result, I had to think up a creative and delicious use for leftover canned tomatoes--something to redeem the beautiful summer fruits from their dust coatings.

I was open to inspiration wherever it lurked, but I really wasn't counting on finding it at The Olive Garden.  I tend to hate on Olive Garden, mostly for the bland pastas that push $20 a plate and the nickel-and-dime menu options.  Want a little side of marinara for those breadsticks?  That'll be $2.75!  And that terrible, terrible wine they try and peddle at your table!  But I do have one digression... the soup, salad and breadstick lunch is a great deal.  It's how I discovered the gnocchi soup, and it's a nice option when you're trying to watch what you eat (as long as you can resist devouring that whole basket of carbs).  We stopped in a weekend or two ago at Clackamas, and I ordered the Zuppa Toscana.  The combination of sausage and spices in a flavor-heavy broth made me hungry for my own second helping at home.  The soup I had was a light cream base, but I figured it would be healthier and more practical to invent a brothy, tomato-ey alternative. 

I decided to combine two of my favorite Italian flavor pantry staples:  Italian pork sausage from New Seasons and cheese tortellini from Costco.  Sausage-Tortellini Soup was born.  I feel guilty even writing about this recipe because it's so simple, but it was so delicious and does go through stray tomatoes.  Simply start by warming a thick splash of olive oil, then adding onion and garlic followed by the sausage and Penzey's Tuscan Sunset seasoning.  Once that's nice and browned, it's dumped into the Crock Pot along with tomatoes, beef broth and vegetables.  When I opened up the tomatoes I took a big, heavy sniff and a long "oooooohhh" just couldn't stay contained in my throat.  I haven't smelled something that fresh, almost fruity and sort-of savory in months, since those tomatoes were rotting off the vines in abundance.  I'm sorry, canned tomatoes!  I'll be good to you next year, I promise. 

The tortellinis aren't added until the last 30 minutes, which makes this one of the only soups I will ever recommend eating the same day it's finished instead of letting sit around.  Therefore it's wonderful for cooking up for a work potluck, a family dinner or any other occasion when you have a little hungry crowd wanting one last taste of thick winter flavors.

Sausage-Tortellini Soup
1 lb bulk Italian-style pork sausage (if you're local, get it at the New Seasons meat counter.  If you're not, I'm sorry :'(
1 quart canned tomato quarters, with juiec
6 cups beef broth (I use Penzey's beef soup base to make it on demand... good stuff!!)
1 small zucchini, sliced into 1/2" pieces
1 small yellow squash, sliced into 1/2" pieces
1 1/2 cups fresh green beans
1 small red bell pepper, sliced
1 medium onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil (enough to generously coat the pan)
1/2 tbsp Tuscan Sunset spice from Penzey's
1 1/2 cups refrigerated cheese tortellini
1 cup frozen spinach OR fresh kale, rinsed and ripped apart
Salt and pepper

NOTE:  The squashes, green beans and pepper I had all came from a Schwan's Mediterranean vegetable blend.  If you have a nice Schwan's delivery person who comes to your house, get a bag and use half of it.  It's a lot easier and tastes great.

Warm butter on medium-low heat.  Add zucchini, yellow squash, green beans and red pepper, season with salt and pepper, and saute until al dente, about 8 minutes.  Place in Crock Pot.

Warm olive oil on medium heat.  Add garlic and saute one minute, then add onion and saute until just sweating, about 3-4 minutes.  Add pork sausage and seasoning, saute until cooked through, crumbling nicely with your wooden spoon.  When finished, add to the Crock Pot along with oil.  Fill Crock-Pot with beef broth and tomatoes.  Refrigerate the mixture overnight to allow flavors to marinate, then cook on low for 8 hours.  A half hour before serving, add tortellinis and frozen spinach.  Stir and serve with a nice shaving of your favorite hard Italian cheese.  I'm partial to Pecorino Romano.  Living in Parm Reg's shadow, it has a saltier flavor and a nice tang. 

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