Kristen Elliott: Cold weather means soup’s on
It is my favorite time of year. Although I love summer and all it has to offer, autumn is a welcome change of season. The crisp, cool air replaces oppressive muggy nights. Sleeping snuggled under blankets replaces sheets kicked off in an attempt to find relief. But most of all, autumn is my favorite season because it is perfect soup weather.
Soup is something for which you can almost always find the ingredients on hand. I always keep cans of chicken and beef broth in my pantry, and from there, anything goes.
I like to experiment with soup. I come up with ideas, or I taste a soup in a restaurant and try to replicate it. One of my favorite soups came from the Olive Garden. The pasta e fagioli was something I craved in a bad way. Unfortunately, until recently, there was no Olive Garden close by. So, I made up my own version of pasta e fagioli soup that, if I do say so myself, is even better than the original. The key ingredients are pesto and red wine.
The other day, I made a chicken sausage tortellini soup. I started with olive oil in a soup pot; added onions, carrots and celery; and cooked them for about five minutes. I had some sun-dried tomato chicken sausage that I cut up into bite-sized pieces and threw in with the vegetables. Then, I added some garlic, rosemary, and 3 cans of chicken broth. I added about a tablespoon of prepared pesto and let it simmer. When the vegetables were cooked, I added a half bag of cheese tortellini. When the tortellini was done, it was ready. If I had any white wine or mushrooms on hand, I would have added them also.
That is what I love about soup; you can totally improvise and change the flavor with a small addition.
The next day, when I was going to have the same soup for lunch, I threw in some leftover butternut squash that we had the previous evening. It was mashed with butter and brown sugar, which might seem an odd thing to add to the soup, but it added a complexity that actually worked well.
I believe that soup, along with nice bread and salad, makes a fine dinner. After working a long day and coming home to see my husband heating up leftover steak right before dinner, I decided to forego the roast I was going to prepare. It would irritate me to no end to spend that much time on dinner to only hear, “I’m not really hungry.” So I decided to make some cheeseburger soup instead.
While I was in the kitchen cooking, Joe wanders in, looks into the pot and inquires, “What is for dinner”? I admit, I was in a foul mood and really in no mood to cook at all.
“I am making cheeseburger soup,” I snapped at him.
“But what is for dinner?” he persisted.
I stopped mid chop and just glared at him. “What do you mean? Soup is for dinner,” I replied in an uncharacteristic nasty tone.
“Oh, sorry, I thought that soup was an appetizer.”
Right, I always cook an appetizer before dinner. We have only been married for 13 years; you think he might know this by now.
“Well, tonight we are eating backwards. The steak you just ate was your appetizer and soup will be your entrée.”
I think he caught on that I was not in a humorous disposition. He ate the soup; he even had seconds and told me how much he enjoyed it. I think he is catching on.
Pasta E Fagioli Soup
1 cup celery diced
1 onion diced
2 carrots shredded
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons pesto
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup red wine (I use more to taste)
1 large can crushed tomatoes
3 cans chicken broth
1/3 pound ditalini pasta
1/2 can small white beans
1/2 can small kidney beans
1/4 pound ground beef
1/4 pound ground sausage
Cook meat, drain fat and set aside. Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil. Add pesto and tomatoes, and simmer. Add wine, chicken broth, vegetables, beans and meat. Simmer until vegetables are cooked. Cook pasta in a separate pan. Add pasta to each serving of soup. I don’t add pasta to the pot of soup because it will overcook and also soak up all the broth. I also recommend shredding the carrots, as the recipe calls for; I don’t know why, but it makes a difference in the flavor. The secret to this soup is the pesto and the wine. I sometimes add more to taste. I buy the jarred prepared pesto in the pasta sauce section of the store.