Introduction: Meatball and CheeseTortellini Soup

About: Let's skip the pretentious titles. At present, I am a paper pusher. In the remainder of my life, I am a mother of two handsome grown men, a wife to a very patient man, a nana of two precious grandchildren, c…

If you aren't familiar with Tortellini, this Instructable will provide a recipe you're certain to enjoy. Tender, cheesy pasta rolls filled with a three cheese blend, fresh baby spinach, onions, carrots, garlic, spices, and even hearty little meatballs in a smooth broth.

How could you not love a big bowl on a cool evening?

With a bit of prep and if the meatballs are made ahead of time, this soup will make a meal that is quick to the table.

Step 1: The Recipe...

There are many variations of tortellini soup, but I chose this one because it was one of many great soups featured in a cookbook called Mr. Sunday's Soups.

If there is one thing we can all agree upon, it is that soup is good food. Well, all of us except Jay Leno

The adapted recipe:

1 lb. Italian sausage (I prefer to mix half hamburger, half sausage)
2/3 cup bread crumbs, finely crumbled (optional, but by no means necessary)
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 Tablespoons of Extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3-4 carrots, peeled and sliced
6-7 cloves garlic, minced (I always use a lot of garlic in our soups)
8 cups (2 quarts) homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
Two 9-ounce packages fresh 3 or 4-cheese tortellini (I only use one package)
2 tablespoons (or less, is my preference) Italian seasoning blend
2 tablespoons chopped basil leaves (Optional - I leave them out, or use cilantro)
2 roasted red peppers (from a jar), drained, chopped. (SEE NOTE BELOW) ***
2 Tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice (1/2-1 lemon)
6 cups loosely packed baby spinach leaves, washed and dried, stems removed

*** NOTE *** Roasted red bell peppers in a glass jar are one of the most amazing things in your pantry. However, they will quickly spoil if not used within a week of opening. Don't be surprised if they are growing fuzzies in just a few weeks. Open them, use them. Read more

Step 2: Gather the Ingredients...

My preference is to make the meatballs ahead of time, so we'll gather those ingredients first. Remember to keep meat, if used, refrigerated until you are ready to assemble the meatballs.

Be sure to see the recipe in the prior step to ensure you have all the components. It is always a good idea to read the entire Instructable ahead of time, to avoid any surprises, and to make any necessary adjustments.

Step 3: Make the Meatballs

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the hamburger and Italian sausage.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and add the bread crumbs. Mix well.

Spray a large frying pan with cooking spray to avoid sticking, if necessary, set aside.

Roll the meatballs into a size according to your preference. We actually prefer smaller meatballs, so the pound of meat used will produce well over 100 of them. Three little dogs in our house may have a lot to do with the size.

As the meatballs cook, shake the pan back and forth on occasion to loosen them, and move them around for even cooking. Using a utensil may result in damaged meatballs.

Once the meatballs are cooked throughout, pour them onto a flat or shallow platter lined with paper towels to absorb and excess grease, especially produced if Italian sausage was added. Set meatballs aside, or refrigerate if not making the entire soup until later, or the next day.

Step 4: Mise En Place - Prepping and Measuring

This soup is actually very easy to make, it is the preparation for combination that takes the most time.

Once you measure everything out, chop, slice, and dice various ingredients, it will all fall together in steps. Having all the components ready to go makes for a smooth process, and goof-proof soup. This is organizational habit is known as Mise en place, a French term which translates to 'putting in place'

Slice, dice, pour and measure the following:

Olive oil - measure 2 tablespoons
Garlic - Peel, slice, then mince 6 or 7 cloves
Onion - Peel, slice, then dice
Italian Seasoning - measure 2 tablespoons, or 1 & 1/2 if you prefer to take it easy
Lemon - squeeze the juice from one lemon, measure 2 tablespoons
Roasted Red Bell Pepper - drain and slice 1 or 2 big peppers
Baby Spinach - rinse well, drain, remove excess stems of approximately 6 cups
Carrots - peel and slice 3 or 4

Step 5: Saute the Onions, Garlic, and Carrots...

My preference for making this soup is to use a large stock pot or Dutch oven, in order to have plenty of room for the later additions, including what I like to call a mountain of baby spinach. You want to be able to fit it all into the pot, even though the spinach will quickly wilt. Start with a big pot, and don't worry.

Add the vegetable oil to the pot, heated to medium-high temperature. Add the carrots, garlic, and onions, and stir well. Add salt and pepper, and allow to saute for three to four minutes.

Step 6: Create the Broth Base...

Add the broth of choice, and an additional one cup of water.
Remember to use two cartons, if that is your choice, as the tortellini and the spinach will absorb a lot of it. You can also keep an extra box handy for next day leftovers if it has absorbed a lot, and morphed. To avoid morphing, simply separate any leftover broth from the soup, then combine the next day for leftovers.

Step 7: Add the Meatballs...

Once the broth has begun boiling, add the meatballs that have already been cooked.

While it must be said that the meatballs could have been added while raw, I'm not a big fan of doing so. You would need to ensure the meatballs were thoroughly cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

By cooking the meatballs in advance, there is no concern for temperature, as they will quickly heat to the same temperature of the soup.

Step 8: Add the Tortellini, Seasoning, and Lemon Juice...

Carefully pour the tortellini into the soup, gently stir to coat them with broth, and add the Italian seasoning, followed by the lemon juice. Stir slowly, to avoid tearing open the tortellini.The method could be described as pushing them under the surface of the soup, as if you were trying to dunk them.

Step 9: Gently Stir in the Spinach...

Add the spinach to the soup in small handfuls, poking them beneath the broth as you add more.
Don't worry, they may take up a lot of room right now, but it won't take but a minute before they wilt into the soup.

Step 10: Ladle Into Bowls and Enjoy!

Give the soup a stir, and ladle into bowls. If you are serving bread alongside the soup, consider giving each bowl a bit more broth for sopping.

Call the family to the table, dinner is served!

My advice for leftovers is to store the broth separate from the other ingredients, so the tortellini do not become overly soggy, nor the spinach a smeary mess. The perfect storage container for such separation is one of my favorites, which comes with a draining grate in the bottom, such as a Lock & Lock plastic container.

Bon appetit!