There are a lot of things I could be doing with all this free time right now, but the thing that I keep coming back to (no surprise) is cooking. While I have these ideas of grandeur like finally attempting to make foods like Smitten Kitchen's cheesecake or Molly Yeh's scallion challah bread or Night & Market's pad thai, I've been turning to recipes that I know and love.

Perhaps out of comfort, perhaps out of ease, but I'm finding a new excitement in re-creating the dishes I grew up eating. The other night we made a riff off my dad's chili, with three different beans, frozen corn, canned tomatoes, and our additions: plenty of Embasa chipotle peppers and some ground Beyond Meat. It was just like dad used to make it, but with our vegetarian and spice-loving twists.

Last night I decided to make my mom's classic tortellini soup. She'd often make this on Halloween night when my friend and her mom would come over before trick-or-treating, or on a weekend for a family dinner. The magic of this soup is that it's so incredibly easy, but also so unbelievably complex tasting like you've been cooking it on the stove all day.

For my mom's version, it's gotta have meat. She changes the recipe every so often, sometimes using ground Italian sausage from her neighborhood market or with fresh shrimp (tails removed). The base of her soup always remains the same: she sautees onions, celery, and red bell peppers in olive oil with salt, pepper, red chili flakes, and her classic California-style garlic powder seasoning. Once just cooked through she removes the veggies to preserve their crunch, and adds broth, pureed tomato, salt, pepper, chili flakes, Italian seasoning to the same pot and let's it come to a boil. Meanwhile she cooks cheese tortellini til al dente in a pot of water, and strains letting the noodles hang out till the broth boils. When the broth comes to a boil, she tastes, adjusts, and when it's ready, throws in a giant handful of baby spinach and turns off the heat. The soup, my friends, is done.

To plate, put a handful of tortellini in your bowl, ladle a heaping spoonful of broth to the bowl, add your veggies in, and top with a generous spoonful of parmesean. That is my mom's version of tortellini soup!

We riffed on that last night by adding mushrooms instead of red bell bepper (we didn't have any) and used mixed salad greens instead of baby spinach (we also didn't have any). Served with freshly made garlic bread, and it brought me back to childhood. I'd say a few key steps in this recipe: 1) do not overcook your tortellini, it's nice having that yummy chew and if you were to combine the noodles with the broth they'd get soggy. 2) Be generous with your seasoning to ensure it has enough salt, spice, oil, and oomph!

Mom's Tortellini Soup

6-8 cups of vegetable broth

1 large can of crushed tomatoes

3 stalks of celery

1 yellow onion

2 cloves of garlic

6-8 white button mushrooms (or for my mom's version, 1 red bell pepper)

1/4 cup olive oil (a glug large enough to generously coat the bottom of your pot)

1 tsp Italian seasoning

1/2 tsp red chili flake (or to your taste)

1 tbsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

1 package of cheese tortellini

1 big handful of mixed greens (or baby spinach, whatever green will wilt nicely)



1. Chop celery, onion, and mushrooms/red bell pepper into small slivers and mince your garlic. Add olive oil to the bottom of a large soup pot and put on medium heat. Add the veggies and stir, cooking 1-3 minutes. Add italian seasoning, red chili flakes, salt, pepper, and garlic and stir, cooking another 5-7 minutes until softened, not browning too much. Remove 3/4 of the vegetables and set aside so they don't overcook as your broth is boiling.

2. To your empty-ish pot (with your 1/4 remaining veggies) add 1 can of crushed tomatoes and stir, letting the tomatoes come to a simmer for 3-5 minutes. Then add your vegetable broth. We use about 2 tbsp of Better than Bouillon vegetable base and add water to that, but my mom uses 2 of these Swanson chicken broths. Stir and put the lid on, letting the broth come to a boil for 10 -15 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and add your cheese tortellini. Let them cook for 5-7 minutes until al dente. Drain, and set aside. We like The Pasta Shop's cheese tortelloni and my mom's go-to are Buitoni's three cheese tortellini. Hers are poofier and giant and delicious, ours are tinier and chewier and I tell myself you can eat more of them.

4. When the broth comes to a boil, taste to see if it needs any seasoning adjustments. More salt, pepper, chili flake? And if it tastes delicious as it should, add your spinach and turn off the heat, giving the spinach a stir so they can wilt.

5. Plate it up by adding veggies, tortellini, and broth to your bowl. Top with a generous pinch of parmesean, and bon appetit!!! Serve with a side salad and garlic bread, but honestly best served with another bowl of it because you're going to want another bowl.

If for some reason you have leftovers, be sure to store the tortellini and soup separately. Up to you if you want to leave the veggies separate too to preserve the crunch, but it won't hurt to add them to the broth.

Hope this soup brings you as much comfort as it does for me and Bread Boy!