Listening to Christmas Music and Cooking a Dutch Oven Tortellini Soup with Italian Sausage and Bread
The State of California has gone into full, hard lock-down, again. While we have the ability to go to the office due to Kennon-Green & Co. being in the financial services sector, we try to avoid leaving our residence as much as possible opting, like tens of millions of other Americans, to work through the cloud, instead. This has been made considerably easier by a lot of the software and technology investments we made over the past few years. Those systems were built between 2016 and the present with the goal of being able to operate remotely in the event of a natural disaster or other catastrophe but are proving equally as capable under the pandemic. I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating: I am so happy with our technology vendors. We were highly selective in choosing them and that prudence has paid off handsomely as they have proven their worth in spades.
While I miss the greater separation of my home and business life that had begun to emerge as our new office opened – there is an efficiency and clarity of mind that comes from doing specific activities at specific times in specific routines in physically distinct spaces – all things considered, work is going great. We’ve been rolling out some modest portfolio adjustments for private clients throughout December. We’re not entirely done with those capital allocation moves but we have made a lot of progress and hope to have them completed sooner rather than later.
In the meantime, we’ve continued to help Aaron’s parents take delivery of things for their place out here in Newport Beach so it is ready when they arrive next year. Last week, the window treatments were installed. They are beautiful and made a huge difference, completely transforming the space. I was particularly excited because earlier this evening, their new Wolf four-slice toaster showed up after being on backorder since September so we were able to unbox it for them and put it out on their counter after Aaron had hung several of their art pieces. I’m curious how their Wolf toaster compares to our KitchenAid Pro toaster – the one we bought nine years and six months ago. Ours is still holding up like a tank. I can’t remember what we paid for it – I think it was also around $400, maybe?- but in any event, the amortized cost has to be near or below $3.50 per month by now. It’s been such a great experience, we’ve more than gotten our money out of it. As importantly, it shows no sign of stopping. We very well may get another decade of utility. KitchenAid has already redesigned it once so the new version doesn’t even look like ours. I have no idea what to expect by the time we find ourselves back in the market.
I love appliances. I really do. I feel like appliance engineers have done more for humanity than so many other professions. They not only create better experiences – tastier, more uniform food, cleaner clothes, more consistent coffee – but they increase safety and have saved billions upon billions of labor hours, freeing people up to do other things with their lives. I should write a review of the coffee grinder I ended up getting last year. It’s incredible; definitely one of my favorite appliance purchases of all time.
Speaking of things that last, since the arrival of the Le Creuset Noel Dutch Oven (the one I showed you in my most recent post sharing that our first baby is due in four months), I have been looking forward to putting it to work. One evening last week, I found a recipe that looked promising – a soup made up of tortellini pasta (stuffed with three kinds of cheese) suspended in a simmered mixture of beef broth, Italian sausage, onion, garlic, carrot, heavy cream, basil, and oregano. I asked Aaron if he would be up for trying it with me. He agreed and so less than twenty-four hours later, we found ourselves in the kitchen chopping vegetables, measuring liquids, and browning meat as we listened to the Michael Bublé Christmas Album.
If you’d like, press the “Play” button on the below video you can hear what we were enjoying while we cooked …
As is the case with nearly all good Italian recipes, the ingredient list was simple. I was optimistic. The biggest variable was the type of Italian sausage since there is so much variation in flavor profiles depending upon the butcher and type you select. We decided to try a sweet Italian sausage for our first go-around with this particular dish.
The recipe said ingredient prep was only five minutes. It took more like ten or fifteen minutes because we used the bowl method of which I am so fond. It makes the process easier as everything is ready to go when it is needed. Then, during periods where you don’t need to actively monitor the cooking process, you can wash the bowls and have them put back in the cabinets so there is little to no cleanup when the food is finally ready.
I turned on the flame and added the olive oil. We’re going to need it to brown the Italian sausage.
While the olive oil was heating, Aaron revealed that he had picked up a new eggnog at the store for us to try! We both love eggnog. (The best store-bought variety we’ve ever tried is the Classic Eggnog from Anderson Erickson, which is so rich, and so delicious, that it tastes like liquid ice cream. If you ever come across some, consider picking up a carton. We both recommend it without reservation.) The variety we sampled was good – how can eggnog not be good? – but we both agree that AE still wins. If we can’t find it out here, we’ll need to figure out our own recipe that replicates it.
When the oil was ready, we added the Italian sausage and started browning it. The process took only a few minutes.
After it was done, we had to drain it onto a plate covered with a paper towel in order to reduce the grease content and free up the Dutch Oven for a few moments. I was excited because this was also the first time we got to use the new matching Le Creuset Noel platter that arrived!
With the sausage set aside momentarily, it was time to sauté the onion and garlic in a tablespoon of sausage grease. It was fragrant and wonderful, as you can imagine.
After that, we had to add the soup base, re-introduce the Italian sausage, stir everything together, bring it to a boil, then simmer uncovered for half an hour.
When that was done, we had to skim off some of the fat. Then we added more of the ingredients, which had to be stirred into the now-reduced soup base.
Next, the lid was put back on the Dutch Oven and we continued to allow everything to simmer for another half hour.
At this point, we had to deviate from the recipe by turning off the heat and stepping away from the kitchen because I had promised to make a work call at 5:30 p.m. even though the firm normally closes at 4:00 p.m. Pacific time (7 p.m. Eastern Time). That took a few hours but after I was done, we brought the Dutch Oven back up to temperature and started working on the next steps: Measuring out the heavy cream and the pre-made tortellini stuffed with ricotta, parmesan, and romano cheeses. (The latter was my concession to a packed schedule. While I would have loved to make the pasta by hand, like we did for that parsley and ricotta ravioli recipe I once shared with you, I knew I needed to be back at my desk to get stuff done before the trading session opened in the morning. Whenever possible, I like to have a general mental map of what my plan of action is if we intend to buy or sell anything for one or more client accounts. Right now, I’m working my way through the portfolios of retired clients, which involves a bit more complexity due to matching cash withdrawal needs with fixed-income maturities. It is more labor intensive since every client is different and dealing with different legacy securities.)
We added the last bit into the pot, stirred, and then finished cooking over reduced heat for the final ten minutes.
At this point, we shut off the flame and Aaron moved the Dutch Oven over to a heat resistant trivet on the kitchen island. We let it set for a moment …
… while we prepared to plate and serve with a good crusty bread that he had heated in the oven after I got off my phone call from earlier.
Excellent! We’re done! Here is the finished product!
The Analysis: The Recipe is Tasty and Satisfying But I’d Consider It a Work in Progress
The recipe itself was good. I think most people, were they to go to a restaurant and order it, would go home satisfied. Would it be something I would add to my permanent file? Not without tweaks. The flavor needs to be more concentrated. I wonder if you could somehow reduce it a bit more and add a splash of white wine into the broth, maybe lemon. I’m not sure. Something.
Another potential direction would be to add red pepper flakes and make it burn.
This is the start of the journey, not the end. It has the foundation of a promising result but it needs to be elevated to get to the level of a dish you might find in one of Marcella Hazan’s recipes. I don’t know how many times I’ve said it over the years but if you can only have one cookbook in your house, it should be her masterpiece, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking with a possible tie being the two-volume set of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I can’t imagine my life without either. The amount of happiness, comfort, peace, and joy those books have brought our family is immeasurable.
Assuming I can figure out what needs to be modified – with enough time, I can and will – this recipe concept interests me. It has three things going for it:
- Ease: It’s not hard. At all. Nearly anyone with even modest experience in the kitchen should be able to do it. You have these periods where all you’re doing is reducing it, freeing you up for other things.
- Lots of Servings: The total serving size – six servings for the recipe as a whole – meant that we were able to have this for lunch on two consecutive days, briefly reheating the Dutch Oven on the stove and ladling new bowls in a matter of minutes. With the bread and everything, each serving was less than 850 calories.
- Reasonable Cost: In terms of cost, a quick back-of-the-envelope estimate shows the entire recipe came to somewhere between $25 and $30 (though if you were shopping in bulk at somewhere like Costco, you could likely get that much lower), indicating a price per serving of $4.17 to $5.00. If someone had the time and could make the bread and pasta from scratch, you could drop that even further. It’s not totally in the realm of the so-called peasant dishes made famous in French cuisine, such as the leek and potato soup I wrote about that cost only $7 per pot but it is comparable to something like the stuffed pepper recipe I wrote about some time ago.
A higher priority on my culinary list is something I’ve been wanting to perfect for years: a white cheese, chicken, and spinach lasagna recipe, preferably with freshly made spinach pasta, as opposed to a more classic tomato-based lasagna. The latter is great, and I certainly love it, but I want the former for the same reason we tend to make white chicken chili more often than traditional chili. (Although Aaron did make a great red chili a few weeks ago; a classic, hearty variety with thick chunks of ground sirloin.) I’ve also been in the mood to make butternut squash soup with cinnamon sugar croutons.