As you may know, I moved to Chicago from Savannah, Georgia in June. The summer was amazing, but everyone kept warning me about winter. Or, upon hearing I’d just moved from Georgia, they’d ask me if I’d been here for a winter yet. When I said I hadn’t, they’d just laugh menacingly. I spent the first nine years of my life just a short drive away in Michigan, and lived in Colorado until leaving for college, so it’s not as if I haven’t experienced winter. I just haven’t experienced Chicago winter.
It’s been shockingly non-wintry here thus far, except for a blink-and-you’d-miss-it snow flurry last week. I’m shaking in my boots (literally–I shelled out way too much money on two pairs of Super Intense Winter Boots that I haven’t even worn yet) waiting for the temperatures to drop and the snow to roll in. I have nightmares about the days I’ll have to trudge through an icy tundra to the El stop that will seem five miles away instead of a block. And as surely as I sit here with my brand new down coat and woolen socks, it was 60 degrees this weekend. I feel like I’m not even able to enjoy this weather because I’m so nervous, always looking over my shoulder for winter.
I was morbidly excited when it dipped into the 40s yesterday. Like, excited in a masochistic way. So I immediately started thinking of ideas for a hot, comforting dinner. And wouldn’t you know it—I had just bookmarked this recipe (on Rachel Wilkerson’s blog via A Farm Girl’s Dabbles) the day before. So into the pot it went: a perfectly winter soup, even when it’s not exactly winter yet.
You will need some things—mostly, the same things you’d need for lasagna. A big can o’ tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, low-sodium chicken broth, onions, red pepper flakes, ricotta, Parmesan, garlic, a sturdy pasta (I used whole wheat shells), and of course, Italian sausage. I’d fully planned to use turkey Italian sausage, but this pork Italian sausage was on sale at Whole Foods for a pittance compared to the turkey, so I decided to sacrifice a few calories and fat for an extra few bucks in my pocket. No harm done! You could definitely use turkey Italian sausage if you prefer.
Start browning your sausage. You can use just a smidge or spray of olive oil.
Chop up your onions. Lots of onions! I used two large ones.
Mince your garlic and get your red pepper flakes and oregano ready.
Toss your onions in with your sasuage and cook for about 5 minutes or until softened. Stir in your spices.
Stir in your tomato paste and cook for a few minutes.
Pop open your giant (28 oz.) can of tomatos. I used these ones with basil because 1) they were on sale and 2) that way I didn’t have to buy fresh basil. I just used some dried basil to kick up the flavor.
Add your whole can of tomatoes, your chicken broth, and a couple of bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.
While that’s going, prep your “cheesy yum.” It’s exactly how it sounds. Cheesy. And so yum. Combine your ricotta, Parmesan, salt and pepper in a bowl.
Mix until well incorporated. Set aside.
When your 30 minutes is done, add your uncooked pasta and continue cooking until the pasta is done. Don’t overcook! (The pasta’s in that picture, but you can’t see it. You’ll just have to trust me.)
Serve with a dollop of cheesy yum on top, and a sprinkle of mozzarella if you desire! I also highly recommend a side of rosemary garlic bread. It was just perfect for dipping.
(Wanna know my garlic bread secret? Just spread roasted garlic on your favorite Italian bread of baguette, sprinkle on some Parmesan, and top with some fresh or dried parsley and a spray of olive oil. Broil for 5 minutes or until toasty deliciousness ensues.)
But back to the soup! This stuff is so good. So savory, spicy, warming, and filling. It’s kind of obvious, but it’s really like lasagna in soup form. And the “cheesy yum” totally makes it. What’s lasagna without ricotta?! (Ok, probably more traditional. But I like the kind with ricotta. So sue me.) Enjoy!
for the soup:
2 tsp. olive oil
1 lb. Italian sausage
3 c. chopped onions
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 T. tomato paste
1 28-oz. can fire roasted diced tomatoes
2 bay leaves
6 c. low sodium chicken stock
8 oz. whole wheat shells or fusilli pasta
1/2 c. finely chopped fresh basil leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
for the cheesy yum:
8 oz. low fat or fat free ricotta
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. salt
pinch of freshly ground pepper
8 oz. shredded part skim mozzarella cheese, optional
Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add sausage, breaking up into bite sized pieces, and brown for about 5 minutes. Add onions and cook until softened, about 6 minutes. Add garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Cook for 1 minute. Add tomato paste and stir well to incorporate. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the tomato paste turns a rusty brown color.
Add diced tomatoes, bay leaves, and chicken stock. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add uncooked pasta and cook until al dente. Do not over cook or let soup simmer for a long period of time at this point, as the pasta will get mushy. Stir in basil and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
While the pasta is cooking, prepare the cheesy yum. In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, Parmesan, salt, and pepper.
Serve with a dollop of cheesy yum and grated mozzarella.