AKA Cheese Tortellini Soup with Cannellini, Kielbasa, and Kale
Yield: about 30 cups of soup (or 15 quarts, or about 60 silicone muffin cups full of soup)
Originally published in Bon Appetit in 2002, the hubs and I discovered this recipe before our first son was even born. Back then, it was a rustic, romantic dish that paired with a glass of wine and crusty loaf of bread like a dream. We could whip it together in well under an hour, and we would sit there and cook together after work, sipping our wine at the kitchen counter, wondering what movie we would stay up to watch until 4 AM. Back then,we were happy we could sleep in until noon if we chose.
Four years later, I was pregnant with my third kiddo. We still made the soup, which was now awesome because we could make a batch, and I could take some on call the next day, and my husband would have something to feed the other two kids. Still under an hour to put together, but now we would frantically tag team to cook, and chug from someone’s sippy cup if we got thirsty, wondering if that stain on the carpet would come out with bleach, and how long it was actually socially acceptable to go without bathing a preschooler, and what the limit could possibly be to how far a human abdomen could stretch. At that point, we were happy we could take turns to brush our teeth, if needed.
Nowadays, we let the kids make the soup, and sip our wine while we take turns yelling, “Mush!” and throw bits of balled-up napkins at them. We wonder how long some of our offspring think they can go without bathing. There’s no movie till 4 AM, and no sleeping until noon, but we now know that some stains are just there to form a memory.
That’s a rainbow-colored, wedge-shaped stain. Bonus points to anyone who can read my mind and tell me how it came to be.
Anyway, back to the soup! We have some for dinner, and we make a huge batch so we have plenty to freeze. Life just keeps getting better.
A few tips for this soup!
While the original recipe calls for purchased broth, I’m a firm believer that the best soups are made from good bases, and since it’s frickin’ easy to get a good base and it makes such a difference, Imma tell you how to do it, and you’re gonna love me for it. Because if you’re busy cooking other stuff in the meantime, the broth practically makes itself. And just remember, if you’ve never made an honest-to-goodness fabulous homemade broth before, don’t be surprised if it’s got a gelatinous quality to it once cooled (I’m not talking about the fatty layer you’re going to spoon off, I mean the broth itself) – it’ll liquefy right up once you cook it again, no worries, and it will taste like the frickin’ tears of drunk unicorns. Like, happy drunk unicorns – the kind that tell people they love them and glow all over. Not the sad sobby kind.
Click here for broth recipes.
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 28 ounces fully cooked smoked kielbasa sausage, if using
- 2 onions
- 2 large fresh fennel bulbs (I use the stalks as well, since they're fan-frickin'-ta-bulous, but the original recipe doesn't call for fronds or stalks, so feel free to reserve for other purposes)
- 8 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper *2/3 of my kids can't have this or their faces melt (or so I'm told), but it's still ah-ma-zing if sprinkled over the finished product
- 4 quarts homemade chicken or vegetable broth (or canned low-salt chicken broth)
- 8 cups chopped/torn collard greens or mustard greens (1 large bunch) *the original recipe calls for kale, which holds up well to freezing, but other greens soften a bit more, while still holding their body. Our favorites are mustard greens or collard greens. Spinach turns mushy. Chard wilts beautifully without completely coming apart, but do avoid rainbow chard, which will tint your soup pink. Whatever you do, just make sure you tear or chop your greens into small enough pieces so that your children can actually put them in their mouths. Or else, they won't love you. I know.
- 2 15-ounce cans cannellini (white kidney beans), rinsed, drained
- 2 9-ounce packages cheese tortellini (if avoiding dairy, substitute out for pumpkin tortellini, mushroom ravioli, or some other tasty filled pasta)
- 2 cups grated Asiago cheese or Parmesan cheese
- Slice kielbasa length-wise, and into little half coins, (because Mommy has worked in an emergency room, dear, and choking hazards have scarred her for life, and you will never be allowed to have fun, never. Ever.) Besides, half, or even quarter, coins will be better distributed than larger pieces if you are freezing small lunch portions.
- Chop onions and slice fennel bulbs and stalks ... like ... with your hands and a knife. OR, feed it to your Cuisinart, because I love you. (I use my french-fry attachment for the food processor and introduce chunks of onion, so the thing dices it perfectly. Fennel is more fibrous, so may want to simply use your regular blade, or your slicing attachment for the bulb, if you wish).
- Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat (I have a 16 quart stockpot that I love!). Add next 6 ingredients and sauté until vegetables are soft and kielbasa (if using) is brown, about 12 minutes.
- Add broth and bring to boil.
- Stir in greens and cannellini. Reduce heat to low and simmer until greens are wilted - the original recipe states about 4 minutes, but just keep an eye on your greens and adjust according to how soft you think your kids will want them.
- At this point, skip to step 8 if eating soup for dinner; if making lunches, cool slightly. Ladle into a pitcher with a spout (or if you're very careful, you can ladle directly into cups), then pour into silicone muffin cups or popover tins with paper liners. Freeze solid overnight - pop frozen cups into a heavy duty freezer bag (without liners or silicone muffin molds) once solid.
- When ready to eat, bring to simmer before continuing (remember, for sending in lunch, soup must be TOO HOT to eat when you pack it).
- Add tortellini to soup. Simmer until pasta is just tender but still firm to bite, about 5 minutes, OR if using for lunches, simmer for two minutes, then portion into pre-warmed food jars (look here to learn how to do this).
- Pass cheese separately, or send in a mini dipper (my kids LOVE this!).
- The-Best-Freeze-Ahead-Soup-Known-To-Man. No, seriously.
*This soup is perfection as is, but absolutely withstands omissions and substitutions. Whether it’s a vegan thing, a dairy- or gluten-allergy thing, or a “kid hates anything remotely green” thing, I promise you this soup will see your modifications and raise you an OM
- BONUS How-To: Chicken Stock/Vegetable Stock to use in your soup, that will just make you feel sorry for all those suckers eating out of a can – EXTRA BONUS: we’ll do this stove-top, but Ill tell you how to do it with your Instant Pot as well, which is just a whole other level of awesomeness.
- Mini Mac-and-Cheese Muffin Bites.
- Pumpkin Spice Waffles
- Ridiculously-Easy-And-Totally-Worth-It (yes, it’s a theme) Bagel Chips (three ways, people!)
- Chewy Dried Pears
Here’s the list of equipment you’ll need, and a list of equipment that makes life easier.
- Large Stockpot. No need to try to stir slowly to not slosh out of a 10 quart stockpot. Go for this 16 quart stockpot. It’s about $25, and will make your soups and broths far easier.
- Measuring Funnel Pitcher – 3.5 cup
- Muffin tins, for your individual servings of mac and cheese. You will be baking eight tins so you’ll want at least two, but ideally four
- Silicone Muffin Cups for soup – standard size or jumbo
- Paper muffin liners (don’t get the foil wrappers for these! Foil muffin liners + Microwave = bad words in comments on my blog)
- Waffle Maker
- Big Tupperware Bowl
- Gallon Freezer Ziplocks
Strongly suggested, but not absolutely needed:
- Stand-up mixer (it was mentioned in a comment thread earlier this week that some of these lunch batches really won’t fit in a standard 5QT mixing bowl – if you don’t have one already, but are thinking of taking the plunge, consider purchasing a 7QT mixer like mine; I can throw an entire birthday party in there, and everything fits.)
- Food Processor – can’t emphasize this one enough (see? I wasn’t lying in Round 1 when I said we’d be using it!)
- Nesco Food Dehydrator, and remember, the Nesco has extra trays if you need ’em!
- Dutch Oven – 7qt
- Parchment paper
- Jelly Roll Pans – get two
A WORD ON FREEZER SPACE
I admit, I have a lot of freezer space. I live with four adult-sized appetites, and one healthy child-sized one, and I tend to freeze and pack 20 weeks’ worth of food for all the kids at a time. Plus, once upon a time, I used to do this regularly for dinners as well as lunches.
So, I have a freezer upstairs for regularly-used items, then a downstairs freezer for frozen lunches, and a separate chest freezer for when I’m feeling particularly go-getter-y (or for when I make Thanksgiving meals ahead of time because I have the stupid schedule). I call the chest freezer my Sexy Beast, and I make my hubby apologize to it if he doesn’t treat it with an appropriate level of tenderness.
The FDA does specifically say that a closed, full freezer will maintain its temperature for 48 hrs without power (a half-full one will maintain it for 24 hrs), so food does not need to be thawed or refrigerate or transferred anywhere, as long as you kee the doors closed. So even if your power goes out Saturday, your lovingly-prepared lunches should be safe till Monday when the repair guy comes! Just sayin’ …
Now, you certainly don’t have to have this. We’re going to work on how to maximize your packing strategies in order to best use your space, and we’re going to use flash freezing and labeling techniques that make my heart skip more than Ryan Gosling (who, for the record, has NOTHING on vacuum sealing). But you should plan on being able to fit two jelly roll pans or large cookie sheets into your freezer at once at any given time during your prepping. If you can’t do that, it may be worth it for you to take a look at getting yourself a separate freezer – not necessarily your own Sexy Beast, but maybe something a bit smaller and inconspicuous, that can still guard your hard work (and only cost you an extra $0.75 or so per lunch if you hold 4 months’ worth of meals for one person in it, right?).
STILL NEED HELP PACKING LUNCHES?
Check out my feedback on how to pack the lunches, with reviews and discussion on cold foods, hot foods, beverages and lunchboxes! But if you don’t think you can take another second of wading through my never-ending drivel, and just want to cut to the chase to know what my absolute preferences are, here’s the short list:
- For hot foods, Funtainer Food Jar or Stanley Food Jar (sorry, you do need to make this decision yourself based on the details).
- For the rest of your lunch, and cold entrees, EasyLunchboxes system: containers, lunchbox, and mini dippers. Close second: PlanetBox.
- Funtainer water bottles (Doc McStuffin, Wonder Woman).
Sometimes, I come across good deals and want to share them, but I don’t want to send you unwanted emails. If you’d like me to email you when I find something really good (like the Instant Pot that went on sale last week for $69.99) you can sign up for those emails here. These would probably be once or twice a month.
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