Hearty Soup – The Ultimate Comfort Food
We just returned from a fabulous vacation in Utah where we once lived for six years. The snow was great, we visited with lots of good friends and had the good fortune to eat some wonderful home cooked meals including this Sausage Spinach Soup recipe.
I don’t know about you, but I love hearty soups especially on cold, snowy winter days. I’m not talking about some fancy gourmet “broth” that can be flavorful and elegant, I’m talking about a down and dirty soup with tons of “stuff” in it that’s going to fill you up and make you feel satisfied when you are done.
I Grew Up On Canned Soups
I grew up on canned soups and have nothing bad to say about them. My kids love the new “Sponge Bob” Campbell varieties but there is just no comparison between homemade soup and any commercial brand on the market.
Once you taste a homemade soup like the one I will show you how to make, all the commercial brands start to taste the same. Funny how that is.
Our friend Angie S., who happens to be a vegetarian most of the time, gave us this recipe. She cooks it with the sausage to give the soup its flavor but doesn’t eat the sausage. Fine with me, I love it and with all the nutritious ingredients like beans and spinach, I don’t mind a little extra meat.
This weekend we invited our new neighbors over for a short-notice get together and to introduce them to another local couple. After a long week, we wanted to keep it simple and serve something casual and I couldn’t wait to try making this soup. With some simple appetizers to start, green salad, a baguette of French bread and this soup, the dinner party was a hit.
Angie's Recipe With Some Adaptations
I adapted Angie’s recipe based on previous experience and what I had in the house. I’ll mention them as we get into the recipe. This is a good one and I hope you try it and enjoy it as much as I do.
The recipe Angie gave me called for cooking the pasta in the soup at the end. I prefer to cook the pasta separately and add it to the soup just before serving. There are pluses and minuses doing it this way.
The negative is the pasta doesn’t get to cook and absorb all the wonderful flavors from the rest of the ingredients. The plus is the pasta doesn’t absorb all the liquid and leave you with a pot of overcooked pasta with very little broth. This is especially important if you make extra and plan to serve it as leftovers the next day.
Besides, pasta has its own unique flavor so by cooking it separately from the rest of the soup; you are actually adding an additional layer of flavor. The same is true when adding a sauce to pasta.
Many of us “drown” pasta in a cream or tomato sauce. The trick is to find the right ratio of sauce to pasta so each has its own distinct flavor and neither one overwhelms the other.
Pre-washed Lettuce - Yeah or Nay?
I have to say, I am liking some of the pre-washed stuff more and more. With spinach, besides triple washing it, they remove most of the stems making it easy to work with. I especially like to prepare sauteed spinach with it.
When it comes to pre-washed lettuce, I often use the Spring Mix (also called Mesclun), a combination of several varieties of lettuce including the young tender leaves of arugula, oak leaf, mache, radicchio, sorrel, frissee and purslane. Each manufacturer has their own formula.
What I have noticed over the past year or so is the large bagged brands seem to go bad faster than the plastic tub brands. I have tested this with both supermarket brands and the large bags I used to purchase at Costco. If we didn’t consume a lot of lettuce in the first three days, we ended up throwing a lot out.
This hasn’t been the case with the Costco brand that comes in a big plastic tub. Lasts longer but what a pain trying to find room for it in the refrigerator.
I’m wondering if it is the lettuce or the container. I should save a tub, buy a big bag of Spring Mix, transfer it to the tub and see if that makes a difference.
In Italian the phrase means "to the tooth" and is a term used to describe the correct degree of doneness when cooking pasta. The food should have a slight resistance when biting into it, but should not be soft or overdone or have a hard center.
Sausage and Spinach Soup with Pasta
- 2½ pounds Italian sausage I prefer mild or sometimes called sweet
- 1 large yellow onion
- 4 large carrots
- 5 cloves garlic
- 3 quarts chicken stock homemade or your favorite low salt commercial brand
- 30 ounces fresh tomatoes diced although I prefer to use canned tomatoes this time of year
- 30 ounces cannellini beans cooked or great northern, black, pinto or a combination. - For this recipe, I suggest using canned beans. Really shortens the prep time down.
- 14 ounce bag spinach triple washed
- 3 tablespoons fresh basil chopped or 1 tablespoon dried
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese freshly grated
- 12 ounces Conchiglie pasta also called shell pasta – go with the medium sized
- salt and pepper to taste
- I like to have the ingredients prepped before I start. You need to remove the sausage from the sausage casings. You can do this before you start or just as you begin to prepare this soup. It’s easy. I asked my youngest daughter to help me remove the sausage and she had a blast.
- Peel and chop the onion, carrots and garlic. This is a soup with a lot of texture so you don’t have to chop it too fine. Really depends on your own preferences.
- If you are using dried beans, you won’t be making this soup until tomorrow. You have to soak dried beans overnight and then cook them. If you are using canned beans, open them up and rinse them off in a colander.
- If you are using fresh spinach, wash and dry it in a salad spinner and remove any tough stems.
- Grate the cheese and chop the fresh basil and put on a pot of water to cook the pasta.
- Start with the sausage. Heat a large soup or stockpot over medium high heat and brown the sausage until it is cooked through. Using a wooden spoon, break up any large chunks of sausage. This should take about 10 minutes.
- At the same time you are cooking the sausage, start heating up the water for pasta. The trick is to have the pasta cooked and ready to go just as the soup is ready to serve. Depending on your stove and where you live the water takes 5 to 10 minutes to boil and then another 8 to 10 minutes to cook the pasta al dente.
- A lot of fat will come from the sausage so I like to pour off most of it before adding the onions, carrots and garlic. Be sure to stir this combination while it is cooking so the ingredients don’t burn and stick to the bottom of the pan. Cook until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Add the chicken stock, bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for five minutes. Now add the chopped tomatoes, beans and dried basil if you are not using fresh. Otherwise, wait until the end to add the fresh basil.
- Simmer the soup for another 10 minutes and then add the spinach and fresh basil. Cook for about a minute until the spinach wilts.
- Take a spoonful of soup and taste for seasoning. Be sure to let the soup cool in the spoon before you taste otherwise it will be too hot for your taste buds to figure out what it needs. Season with salt and pepper.
- Spoon some pasta into your serving bowls, ladle in some soup and top with the grated Parmesan cheese. I like to serve some extra cheese in a separate bowl on the side for those who want more.
- Serve with some French or Italian bread and you have yourself an incredible meal.