Tomato & Spinach Tortellini Soup

A few weeks ago my aunt made this delicious tomato and spinach tortellini soup for me. She had it for the first time while visiting a friend in Europe. (We can think of the recipe as exotic, since it comes from overseas). One bite, and I knew I would be sharing it with you. It’s a perfect spring time soup, and packs tremendous flavor in each spoonful. It’s also a soup that can be paired with a salad or piece of bread and enjoyed for dinner. It’s very easy to make and can be thrown together in no time. When I’m putting my meal plans together each week, I’m always careful to include a few meals that are really fast and easy to make. We are all busy and don’t always have the time or energy to make a complicated meal. With this soup, the hardest thing you will have to do is chop an onion. If you can operate a can opener and open a bag of spinach you will have no problems putting together this great meal. This soup has everything, a little bacon, fresh spinach and cheesy tortellini. At dinner time I am usually pretty hungry and a bowl full of soup won’t cut it for me. This soup is different, with the bacon and tortellini it’s both satisfying and filling, but light enough that it won’t weigh you down for the rest of the night. Make one night this week a soup and salad night.

Tomato & Spinach Tortellini Soup
Recipe Inspired by a family Friend

What you will need –

2 Tbs Olive Oil
3 Cloves Garlic chopped
1 Large Yellow Onion chopped
4 oz Bacon or Pancetta diced
9 Cups Chicken Stock
8 oz Fresh Spinach
1 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
9 oz Cheese Tortellini (I used a spinach and plain mix which is usually easy to find)
28 oz can of Crushed Tomatoes
Salt & Pepper

In a large thick bottomed pot heat the oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta or bacon and let cook for 3 minutes, then add the chopped onion and cook until soft and translucent. Add a few pinches of salt to season the onions. Once the onion becomes soft add the chopped garlic and cook for 2 or 3 minutes, don’t let the garlic brown or it will become bitter. At this point your bacon should be browned and the onion and garlic cooked through, but not browned.

Add the chicken stock and crushed tomato, and let come to a boil. Add the tortellini and cook for 7 minutes. Add the spinach and parmesan cheese to the pot.

The cheese will melt and the spinach will wilt immediately. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve with a slice of bread or a fresh salad.

Bread ~ You’ve Got the Time

For the last few months I have been polishing my artisan baking skills. I’ve never liked to bake, it’s too exact. You actually have to measure ingredients, but making bread is really enjoyable and dare I say it, tasty. I’ve found that a homemade loaf of bread can turn a good meal into an extraordinary meal. Aside from the great taste, your friends and family will be impressed by your effort. There is just something about freshly baked bread, it compliments so many meals perfectly.

Your thinking, are you crazy!? I’m so busy, the last thing I have time for is to make bread. You would be surprised, while making bread is a process, it’s really pretty easy to make. The amount of prep time is minimal. A majority of the time you actually don’t have to do anything, but wait. You could go read a book or watch a movie, maybe go take a nap while the dough rises or bakes in the oven. (You may want to set an alarm if napping while your bread is baking. Burnt bread is not so good). For the most part all you have to do to make bread is portion out the ingredients, mix them together (preferably with a Kitchen Aid) and shape the dough. Besides for homemade bread being wonderfully delicious, its kind of fun to make too.

A few meal suggestions to serve your freshly baked bread with ~

Beef Bolognese
San Marzano Marinara
Meatballs & Sauce

Recipe inspired by Michael Rulhman
What you will need –

4 Cups Bread Flour
12 oz Warm Water (about 100 degrees, but I never take the temp)
2 tsp Active Yeast
1 tsp Olive Oil
1 tsp Honey
2 Tbs Kosher Salt
Sea Salt for topping the bread
Olive Oil for topping the bread

I use a Kitchen Aid with a bread hook to mix and knead my bread. If you don’t have one you will need to knead the dough by hand, and yes it will require a little more work. Pour your warm water into a bowl. Add the honey and olive oil to the water and mix. Add the yeast and mix until it is dissolved into the water. Let sit for five minutes. In the Kitchen Aid mixing bowl add your flour and salt. Add the water, yeast, olive oil combination to the mixing bowl with the flour. Lock your Kitchen Aid and on low speed with the dough hook combine all of the ingredients. You are going to knead the dough in the Kithchen Aid for 10 -12 minutes. I will turn the Kitchen Aid off about 3 times and pull the dough off of the dough hood and then turn the machine back on to make sure the at the dough is well kneaded.

After 10 – 12 minutes sprinkle a light amount of flour on your countertop and place the dough on top of the flour. Coat your hand lightly with flour so that the dough does not stick. Fold the dough into itself forming a nice dough ball.

In a bowl, rub a little olive oil so that the dough doesn’t stick. Place the dough ball into the bowl and cover with a kitchen towel. Make sure the towel doesn’t touch the dough. Let the dough sit in a warm area of your kitchen for about 1 – 2 hours (depending how much time you have). The longer you let it sit the more time the yeast will have to work, producing extra flavor. At a minimum you want the dough to rise so that it doubles in size. This usually takes about one hour. (Plenty of time for napping).

You can add fresh chopped herbs to your dough, like rosemary (see the green rosemary below)

When the dough has fully risen you then need to punch it down. Which just means that you knead it again to push out any of the air created while rising. I don’t use the Kitchen Aid at this point. You can simply knead the dough by hand, taking the dough from the outside of dough ball and pushing it into the middle. Once done, let the dough ball rest on your kitchen counter for 15 minutes. Then you are ready to shape the bread and bake it.

So many different shapes and sizes of bread. Decisions… Decisions. I have tried two different shapes. The traditional loaf and the ciabatta. Each is very different. I like to top either of these with a high quality garlic infused olive oil and some sea salt. Before placing the dough in the oven to cook I rub the olive oil all over the top of the bread and then sprinkle evenly with sea salt.

For the traditional loaf – place your hands on each side of the dough ball and rock it back and forth. The idea is to roll it back and forth so that it stretches and forms into a loaf about 8” to 10” long. I like to use a dutch oven to cook the loaf in. If you don’t have one you can cook it on an insulated cookie sheet. With the insulated cookie sheet you won’t burn the bottom. Coat the bottom of the dutch oven (or cookie sheet) with a little olive oil. I like to use a garlic infused olive oil on inside the bottom of the pan and to top the bread, but regular olive oil will do just fine. Place the loaf of dough in the dutch oven. With a sharp knife cut a shallow line down the center of the loaf. This will help the bread stretch as it cooks. Place the lid of the dutch oven on (one secret to great bread). If you are not using a dutch oven, place one cup of water in an oven safe pan and place it in the oven with the dough. This will help to steam the bread making for a nice crispy, yet chewy outer crust. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Place your dough into the oven. After 10 minutes reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and remove the lid from the dutch oven. Continue cooking for 35 to 45 minutes. You want the outside of the bread to be golden brown. If you tap on it with your fist you want it to sound hollow. This means your bread is done.

For the ciabatta loaf – (Ciabatta means slipper in Italian) you are going to carefully stretch the dough ball into a long oval shape… similar to a slipper. I start by holing one end of the dough ball with two hands and letting gravity pull the dough slowly towards the ground. I will then grab the opposite end of the dough with both hands and again let the dough stretch towards the ground. Once the dough has stretched as far as it will with gravity place the dough back on the countertop and pull it gently apart with you hands to finish stretching it out. You want the dough to be about 1 foot long and about an inch thick. Lightly coat an insulated cookie sheet with olive oil. Place the dough onto cookie sheet. (I’ve tried the ciabatta in a large dutch oven, but I think it comes out better on the cookie sheet).

Straighten your fingers and press them into the dough all over creating little dimples across the entire loaf. This helps create that ciabatta goodness we a like. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Place 1 cup of water in a oven safe baking dish or pan. Place both the ciabatta loaf and the pan with water into the oven. After 10 minutes reduce the oven temperature and cook for about 30 minutes, until the ciabatta loaf is golden brown. Same as with the traditional loaf if you tap on it with a fist you want it to sound hollow. Pull out some nice butter, cut the bread and serve with dinner.

Chefs Note – In my experience freshly baked bread is not very good the next day. I recommend that you freeze any left over bread immediately after dinner in freezer safe bags. When you want to use the bread, simply pull it out of the freezer about 2 hours before dinner.