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An Ode to Née Née
My mom, Mama Renee, is a great cook. Much to her chagrin, I never wanted her to teach me how to cook when I was growing up. I was not interested in food or cooking at all; I wanted to eat pizza rolls and Velveeta, and I mostly still do. But when I moved away from her to Pittsburgh and couldn’t have her food all the time, I started calling her often and doing my best to recreate her staples away from home. Meatballs, baked ziti, pasta salad, and lots of soups were my go-tos. I have very vivid memories from as far back as I can remember of my mom making soup, standing over the stove tearing chicken off a carcass. To anyone who has enjoyed soup from me, you have her to thank. She is the OG. This sausage tortellini soup was one of the first recipes that I set to mastering when I took an interest in cooking, and I’ve been making it a lot since that time thirteen years ago. Now that I know how to cook, I often say that I’m better at it than she is to the opposition of everyone in my family (including myself).
I dated a line cook for years and he always raved about the soup and encouraged me to get into cooking. So, I started making it more and more and dabbling here and there in other ventures. Whenever a friend would get sick, I would take them this soup. The red pepper flakes, stupid amount of garlic, and of course all the love in my heart are guaranteed to chase away any doom – physical, emotional, or otherwise. It became known as ‘the healing soup’ among my friends. Making this soup and doling it out to my loved ones is really what started this whole thing. This is it. One soup to rule them all, one soup to find them, one soup to bring them all, and in the darkness make their head colds go away. I have been asked many times what my favorite soup is, and this is it. It’s so nostalgic to me that I think if you make it and eat it you will start to have my memories; I just hope you don’t get the one where my brothers read my diary.
I sit very close to the steering wheel in my car. It makes me feel like a racecar driver. Once, I made a big pot of healing soup for my friend, James, when he was sick. I took it over to his house and had it sitting on the passenger floor of my car. When I arrived, I reached over and grabbed the container (it was around 6 quarts of soup) and I pulled it over myself to get out of the car. The Tupperware bounced off the steering wheel, bounced off my chest, the lid flew open, and I dumped 6 quarts of hot homemade sausage & tortellini soup into my lap and all over my car. It was a 2002 Jetta and it smelled like crayons, as they do; but from that day on, the smell of beef broth took over. And that was fine. I totaled it shortly thereafter. In 2019, I was finally able to buy another Jetta. Her name is Tortellini.
TORTELLINI & SAUSAGE SOUP
Yields 4 quarts / 8 servings of soup.
1 lb. hot sausage
1 diced yellow onion
10-15 garlic cloves diced
2 tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 tbsp. dried oregano
4 tbsp. tomato paste
1 28oz. can diced tomatoes
4 carrots cut into coins
3 diced red bell peppers
2 32oz cans of beef broth
3 or 4 handfuls of chopped kale
1 lb. bag of frozen tortellini
kosher salt && fresh cracked pepper
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
Place a Dutch oven or stock pot over medium heat. Add sausage and cook until browned (I use bulk sausage, but you can also use links and cut them into coins). Don't move the sausage around too much as you want to achieve nice browning on at least one side. Using a slotted spoon, remove sausage from the pot, leaving behind the rendered oil. It's okay if it's not fully cooked at this point because it will continue to cook in the soup later. Turn the heat down to medium/low, and add the onion, garlic, crushed red pepper, oregano, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Sautee until the onions are translucent, but do not let them brown. Add the tomato paste and cook for about 5 minutes until the paste is thickened and deep red in color. Stir in the diced tomatoes, scraping any tomato paste from the bottom of the pot and making sure everything is well incorporated. Allow this mixture to simmer for 5-10 minutes. At this point, the tomato mixture should be thickened and saucey. Add the cooked sausage, carrots, red pepper, and beef broth and bring soup to a boil. Turn heat back down to medium/low and add kale. Cook until the carrots are cooked through. When the carrots are done, add the tortellini. I usually cook the tortellini in a separate pot before adding it to the soup, but if you want to add it directly in, that’s fine. Turn the heat off and add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar. Top the soup with some fresh basil, more red pepper flake, and grated parmesan.
This soup can easily be made vegetarian by omitting the sausage and using vegetable broth.
I made this soup yesterday while finishing up Alex Trebek’s book The Answer Is. Something about me: I love Alex Trebek an equal or greater amount than I love some of my grandparents. Listening to his book was a really sad experience for me. The one-year anniversary of his death and the death of my grandmother (a few days apart) is fast approaching. After finishing the last chapter, I started listening to Michelle Zauner’s Crying in H Mart, which is about her experience coping with the premature loss of her mother. So, there I am, an irrational crier mourning Alex Trebek, listening to a lady mourn the death of her mother, making a soup taught to me by my mother (who is never allowed to die), and all the while just bawling straight into the soup. Anyway, it was an especially good batch. I recommend both of those books, especially Alex’s. It’s a really beautiful book even if you don’t know who he is. And if you don’t know who he is, don’t talk to me anymore. I love you and I hope you have a cool Halloween.