~ This Italian Sausage-Tortellini Soup is bright and richly flavorful, and brimming with lots of savory, fresh veggies. It’s absolutely delicious – a beloved family favorite! Hearty enough for a winter supper, yet light enough for warmer months: it’s really perfect nearly all year ’round. Great for using up your farmers’ market haul or your backyard garden’s bounty … but easy to make in the winter with grocery store veggies, too! ~
This Recipe: • Includes Make-Ahead Steps •
From my first spoonful of this soup, the very first time I tasted it … I knew I had to have the recipe. It was rich and full-flavored. Just so, so deeply, satisfyingly, perfectly good.
We were gathered around my mother-in-law’s dinner table, laughing and talking, the conversations overlapping and weaving through each other as we all simply enjoyed being together. Our meals at her house are always like that – boisterous and energized, but casual and relaxing, too – full of happy chatter and lots of good food.
But the soup.
Oh, that soup!
It was light, yet hearty. Homestyle comfort food that also managed to feel refreshingly nourishing. Honestly, it pretty much had it alllll goin’ on …
- a deliciously savory, slurp-able broth
- highlighted with Italian spices and richness from onion, garlic, and three different layers of tomato-y flavor
- loaded up with bountiful, colorful veggies (like a summer garden in my bowl!)
- with a meaty flavor punch from crumbles of Italian sausage
- plus pillowy, cheesy rounds of tortellini
I couldn’t stop eating it. Just … one … more … helping …
And I needed the recipe.
Luckily, my mother-in-law’s always happy to share her recipes. (I treasure a lot of favorites she’s given me through the years, like Parmesan Spaghetti Squash.)
So she passed along a photocopy of a little, carefully typed index card she’d gotten from a long-ago tennis buddy who’d once brought this tortellini soup to a ladies’ luncheon. The little card offered vague measurements and general “throw-everything-in-the-pot” instructions.
But no problem – I could work with that!
Over the years, I’ve standardized those vague measurements and worked out a system of adding the ingredients to the pot in stages. That way, the flavors develop while each veggie cooks just the amount I like, with the heartier veggies heading in first, and the more delicate ones popping in closer to the end.
Oh – and you guys know I can’t resist a chance to wave my nutrition “magic wand” over a recipe. With so many veggies jam-crammed in this soup already, it didn’t really need much of a health-ification overhaul.
But, I did tweak just a few things:
1) I switched to lighter, leaner Italian turkey sausage (instead of pork), and also slightly reduced the overall amount of sausage, so the soup is a bit more of a showcase for all those nutrient-rich fresh veggies.
2) I switched to fat-free, reduced-sodium broth, rather than regular. I prefer to have control over how much salt I add to recipes, starting with a lower-salt broth in the beginning (more about the salt later …)
3) And, I tossed in some spinach for an extra nutritional boost (and great color!).
Oh my goodness. Just thinking about this wonderful soup … I wish I could tuck into a bowlful right now!
So let me give you a few tips to help you along your way, and then you’ll be enjoying your own bowlful in no time!
Tips for Making This Italian Sausage-Tortellini Soup
1) Veggie Sizes – One of the things I adore about this soup is that it’s so absolutely perfect, whether you’re making it with summertime’s garden-fresh veggies from your backyard plot or the local farmers’ market … or whether you’re using grocery store vegetables in the middle of winter.
Either way, though, I like to try to cut all the veggies into roughly the same bite-size pieces, about 1/2-inch dice. No need to break out a ruler or get obsessive. Just shoot for more-or-less uniform sizes, so each type of vegetable cooks consistently.
2) Adding Ingredients in Stages – As I mentioned before, I like to add the veggies to this tortellini soup in specific stages, so each vegetable is cooked just the way I like it – nice and tender, but not too mushy.
Vegetables like the peppers, carrots, and onions – which will cook longer – get tossed in the pot at the very beginning, along with the sausage and garlic. They begin to soften and build flavor right from the start.
Then, the more delicate zucchini is added a little later, along with the broth and the tomato juice and sauce.
I wait to add the fresh tomato until near the end, as I dump the frozen tortellini in to cook.
And, since my family prefers spinach in recipes like this (and in our Crock-Pot Italian Wedding Soup) to be just barely wilted – not really cooked – I don’t stir in the spinach until the very end, after the soup is done cooking.
That way, the residual heat gently wilts the spinach, without over-cooking it.
(And BTW – I love my Lodge enameled cast iron pot for this recipe! It’s so pretty, works beautifully, and is priced so much better than Le Creuset.)
3) A Note About the Salt – I wrote this recipe so that you don’t salt this soup until the very end of cooking, since there are a number of ingredients whose spice blends and saltiness can affect the balance of flavors and the amount of salt you’ll ultimately need.
I generally find that I need to add about 1 teaspoon of kosher salt at the end to really make the flavors pop. But, that could change based on things like how much sodium is already in the broth you purchase.
To make sure you don’t OVER-salt the soup, go slowly, adding just a little more salt at a time. You’re looking for the flavors to move from slightly dull to WOW. When seasoned properly, the flavors should be really vibrant and rich.
Remember, too, that parmesan is a very salty cheese, full of umami flavor. So, if you’ll be sprinkling on some parm for a final flourish or passing parmesan at the table, you may not need to add quite as much salt.
Change It Up … and Make It Your Way!
• Timing: Feel free to play around with the timing of when you add the veggies to this soup, so each one is cooked just the way your own family prefers. If you like certain veggies – say, maybe the green peppers – more al dente and crunchy, you can add them later in the cooking process.
And, if your family likes their spinach more fully cooked than we do, you can certainly add it earlier in the recipe, so it wilts down more fully. You could also keep the spinach leaves whole and unchopped, if you like big ribbons of spinach in your soup.
• Veggie Options: I love the harmony of flavors in this soup recipe, but don’t be afraid to experiment with the different types and the proportions of veggies, depending on your preferences or on whatever looks terrific at the market. Maybe you’d like a little more carrot but a little less green pepper? Or maybe you’ve got lots of red peppers in the garden and wanna swap those in place of the green ones? No problem – do it your way and really make it your own!
• Spice It Up: I always make this with sweet Italian turkey sausage, but what if your family prefers a little more heat? Try using spicy Italian turkey sausage to kick things up a little, or even a combination of both sweet and spicy! Yum!
• Tortellini: For a nutrition boost, I definitely recommend using whole-wheat tortellini if you can find one that’s also reasonably low in fat.
I typically recommend whole-grain pastas in our recipes whenever possible, but the whole-wheat tortellini available in my local stores is notably higher in fat, and I always try to balance my preference for whole-grain foods against fat content and other nutritional issues.
So … choose the healthiest tortellini you can find at your own stores. And just keep in mind that there’s a definite and surprising difference in the fat content of various brands, so read the labels carefully.
• Cheese: When we sprinkle some cheese on top of our steamy bowls of this soup, it’s usually always parmesan – just in keeping with the Italian spirit of this recipe. But it’s great topped with other shredded cheeses, too (cheddar is especially yummy). So, use whatever happens to be in your fridge!
Make-Ahead and Reheating Tips
Want to get a jump on dinner? You can chop most all of the veggies for this soup – specifically, the onion, carrot, pepper, garlic, and zucchini – earlier in the day or even a day or so ahead.
But, I’d hold off on the tomato and spinach, until you’re nearly ready to cook the soup, just to keep them at their best.
This soup is still good reheated later, but the consistency won’t be quite the same as when it’s hot and fresh, straight off the stove. Just like with most other pasta soups, the tortellini will continue to absorb the cooking broth while the soup hangs out in your fridge. So, it’ll be a lot thicker when you reheat it and serve it a day or two later.
I don’t recommend thinning it back out by adding more broth, simply because that will dilute all the other flavors. But, if you really want to add some extra broth, be sure to taste and re-season your soup before serving it. Honestly, though, I just enjoy the leftovers in their new, thicker form – a bit more like a stew than a soup, but still very delicious!
With the Italian sausage and plenty of pasta … plus all those veggies … this Sausage-Tortellini Soup really is a meal in itself!
But, to round out your dinner:
- Try serving this with crusty, craggy, whole grain breads. Perfect for mopping up the last spoonfuls of that amazing broth in the bottom of your soup bowl!
- You could also pair this with gooey grilled cheese sandwiches.
- Or, for a really garden-focused meal, try offering it alongside a refreshing green salad.
No matter how you serve it, this wonderful tortellini soup is always such a huge hit! Delicious with garden-fresh vegetables or with whatever you can find at the grocery store.
It’s deeply, richly comforting, but has a vibrance that reminds you of sunnier, summer-y days … all year through!
Gather your own family around the table for some cheerful conversation and a hearty bowl of this soup. From the very first spoonful, you’ll know exactly why it’s such a beloved favorite with our own family. (And why this recipe has passed from friend to friend, family member to family member!)
No doubt, it’s definitely a keeper!
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- 12 ounces sweet Italian turkey sausage (bulk, or links cut open)
- 1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion (about half a large onion)
- 1 1/4 cups chopped green pepper (about 1 large, 7- to 8-ounce pepper)
- 3/4 cup peeled, chopped carrot (about 1 medium, 5- to 6-ounce carrot)
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 46-47 ounces fat-free, reduced-sodium beef broth (1 [32-ounce] carton + 1 [14.5-ounce] can)
- 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce with Italian herbs
- 1 (5.5-ounce) can vegetable juice (such as V8 Original)
- 2 1/2 cups chopped zucchini (from a 12- to 13-ounce zucchini)
- 2 tablespoons salt-free Italian seasoning blend
- 19 ounces frozen cheese tortellini (no need to thaw – see note)
- 1 1/4 cups seeded, chopped tomato (from about 2 medium tomatoes)
- 1 cup chopped baby spinach (about 1 to 1 1/4 ounces)
- kosher salt to taste (about 1/2 - 1 teaspoon), optional (see note)
- parmesan cheese for serving, optional
- In a large soup pot (I love my Lodge enameled cast iron pot), heat olive oil over medium heat. Add sausage, onion, green pepper, carrot, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally to crumble sausage (this is my favorite tool for breaking up ground meats), until sausage is cooked through and no longer pink, about 10 minutes. Drain if needed (if using lean turkey sausage, you probably won't need to.)
- Add broth, tomato sauce, vegetable juice, zucchini, and Italian seasoning. Cover, bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low or medium-low to maintain a steady simmer, and allow to simmer for 15 minutes.
- Add tortellini and tomatoes. Cover and increase heat as needed to regain a simmer, cooking for a total of 10 minutes more, or until tortellini are done.
- Remove from heat and stir in spinach. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding kosher salt only if needed so the flavors pop (see note).
- Serve immediately, passing parmesan at the table if desired.
Tortellini: When cooking the tortellini, most package directions specify that tortellini, cooked from frozen in boiling water, need only a few minutes to cook, but since we are not cooking them at a full, rolling boil (we're gently simmering them), we allow slightly longer for them to cook and mingle with the flavors of the soup. We like them to be cooked through and al dente when serving, but not over-cooked and mushy.
Also, as noted in the post above, we recommend purchasing whole-grain pasta whenever possible, but the whole-wheat tortellini available in our local stores is notably higher in fat, and we always try to balance our preference for whole-grain foods against fat content and other nutritional issues. Just try to choose the healthiest tortellini you can find. There is a definite difference in the fat content of various brands, so read the labels carefully.
Salt: As discussed at greater length in the post, the amount of salt you'll need to add at the end can depend on the sodium content and spices in the exact brands and products you purchase (especially the broth in this recipe). We usually find that we need to add about 1 teaspoon of salt at the end of cooking, but we recommend that you start with less and add just a little at a time until the flavors of this soup are really vibrant and rich. Also, if you're serving this soup topped with salty parmesan cheese, you may need a little less salt.