Friday, January 10, 2014

Italian Sausage Soup

Last Year's Post: Rosemary-Lemon Grilled Ahi with Pearl Couscous
Two Years Ago:  Broccoli, Cabbage and Brussels Sprout Salad with Dijon Vinaigrette

Having spent far too many years of my life in cold climates, I can sympathize with everyone who has been shivering their way through the polar vortex during the past week or so.  "Polar vortex" sounds so dramatic, like you're going to get sucked in and end up in the middle of the earth or on another planet, don't you think? Or maybe you'll pop out in the Bermuda Triangle, which would be a nice change of temperature except for the little problem of needing a boat.

Although I now live in Phoenix, I promise never to be one of those people who wait until the absolute coldest day of the year and then call you to gloat.  I mean really, talk about kicking someone when they're down and cranky.

Instead, I extend my warmest thoughts to you along with this hot and hearty soup recipe.  Is anything better when it's cold or you have a cold than soup? (And it doubles as a great hand-warmer.)  This is absolutely the best Italian sausage soup ever, featuring zucchini, fettuccine and sausage in a beef broth seasoned with tomatoes, red wine, basil and oregano.  Serve it with a loaf of hot crusty bread and you have a feast for the coldest night.

I particularly like spicy Italian sausage in this recipe, but of course you can use mild sausage or half and half.  To cut calories and fat I recommend turkey sausage, but any Italian sausage will taste great.  If you use pork sausage just be sure to drain off most of the fat after browning.  You could also add some baby spinach if you want to bump up the nutritional value even further.

Those of you who read this blog regularly are probably sick of hearing me talk about sodium levels, but I checked the sodium levels of all the beef broth products in the store and they vary wildly.  Be aware of the sodium level you choose, and adjust seasonings at the end.  Many years ago before I became aware of sodium levels I used a common high sodium broth to make this soup and thought it tasted great without adding salt.  When I started cutting down on sodium I tried a beef broth with no sodium added and thought the soup tasted flat without salt, which was easily fixed after I tasted it. When did life become so complicated?  Anyway, start with lower sodium broth and add a little bit of salt at a time when the soup is done until you're happy.

This is a slow cooker recipe, but you could easily make it in a big pot on the stove and simmer it for a hour or two instead.  Don't be tempted to cook the pasta in the soup - it will soak up too much of the broth and is likely to become mushy.  Several people who have tried this recipe over the years have commented that they prefer to use a short-cut pasta such as penne or shells rather than fettuccine for ease of spooning up.  I like the fettuccine broken into short lengths but feel free to use whatever type of pasta you prefer or have on hand.

I grated some parmesan that I had on hand for an optional topping, which was very good but not necessary.

Stay warm and out of the Bermuda Triangle!

printable recipe
Italian Sausage Soup
Serves 8

Note:  This recipe could also be made in a soup pot on top of the stove, simmered for an hour or two.  Do not add pasta until shortly before serving.

1 tablespoon olive oil
19.5 oz pkg mild or spicy turkey Italian sausage, removed from casings
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
32 oz canned whole peeled tomatoes
1 ¼ cups dry red wine
5 cups beef broth
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
2 zucchini, cut in half length-wise and sliced into half-moons
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
8 oz dried fettuccine, broken into shorter lengths
Salt and pepper to taste

While still in the can, snip the tomatoes with a kitchen scissors into smaller pieces. 

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add sausage and cook, crumbling with the edge of a spoon, until browned.  Remove with a slotted spoon and drain. 

Add onion to the same skillet and cook for 2 minutes, then add garlic and cook 1 additional minute.  Transfer to a slow cooker and stir in tomatoes and their juices, wine, broth, basil, and oregano.  Add sausage, zucchini, bell pepper, and parsley.

Cover and cook on low for 4 to 6 hours.

Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil.  Cook pasta in boiling water until barely al dente accordingly to package directions.  Drain and add pasta to slow cooker.  Simmer for a few minutes, then taste and adjust seasonings prior to serving.

Note:  If you save some of the soup for later you may want to add additional beef broth as the pasta will absorb some.

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