This fall has seen the coincidental publication of my Sunday Casseroles and When Paris Went Dark—The City of Light During the German Occupation, my husband’s new book. As a consequence, the past two months have been a blur of travel for us. I’ve been to Maine, Boston, and Ohio for book events, and tagged along with my spouse to New York, Washington, and Connecticut for his talks and signings. This chaotic schedule has meant that I’ve had to cook smart, and make plenty of dishes in advance. Soups, it turns out, have been my salvation since they are so easy to do ahead. One of my favorites has been a comforting Italian –style “zuppa“ of tomatoes, fennel, and sausage.
This hearty soup is made by sautéing slices of sweet, fennel-scented Italian sausage along with leeks and then gently simmering the duo in chicken stock and tomatoes. Simple seasonings of basil, red pepper flakes, and garlic round out the robust flavors, while a sprinkle of grated Parmigiano provides a fitting garnish.
This dish boasts other bonuses too. It holds up well for several days in the fridge, and can be frozen as well. A recipe yields six servings, making it perfect for at least three meals when you are cooking for two, like I do! Best of all, this is a dish of big, assertive tastes that works beautifully as a main course. Serve it with a salad of baby spinach and romaine, tossed in lemon juice and olive oil, and add a warm, crusty ciabatta to complete the menu. Then, pat yourself on the shoulder for being such a clever cook!
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Tomato, Fennel, and Italian Sausage Soup
1 pd sweet Italian sausage links seasoned with fennel (see note)
4 tbsp olive oil
2 cups chopped leeks
2 cups chopped fennel
2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp dried basil
Scant 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp kosher salt plus more if needed
4 cups reduced sodium chicken stock, plus up to 1 1/2 cups extra if needed
A 28-oz can diced tomatoes with their juices
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup coarsely grated Parmesan, preferably Parmigiano Reggiano for the garnish
1/3 cup julienned basil for the garnish
1. With a sharp knife, cut the sausage links into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large, deep-sided pot over medium heat. When hot, add enough sausage to fit comfortably in a single layer. Cook, stirring and turning, until browned well on all sides, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Continue until all the sausage has been browned.
2. Discard all but one tablespoon of the drippings in the pot, and add the remaining olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the leeks and fennel. Cook stirring, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and stir 1 minute more.
3. Stir in the basil, crushed red pepper flakes, and salt. Then add the tomatoes and their juices, chicken stock, and tomato paste. Stir well, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Return the sausage to the pan. Reduce the heat and cook, uncovered, until sausage has cooked through, and soup has reduced slightly, about 30 minutes. Season with more salt if needed, and thin with extra stock if soup is too thick. (Soup can be prepared 2 days ahead; cool cover, and refrigerate. It can also be frozen. Reheat, stirring, over medium heat.)
4. To serve, ladle soup into six soup bowls, and garnish each serving with some basil. Pass a bowl of Parmesan cheese for sprinkling. Serves 6.
Note: Look for sweet Italian sausage links that are seasoned with fennel seeds. My local Whole Foods sells very flavorful sweet Italian links. When slicing the links, don’t remove the casings; just use a sharp knife to cut them into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces. If using loose sausage, simply shape it into small balls about 1/2- to 3/4- inch in diameter.
Note: This soup often cooks down faster than anticipated so feel free to thin it with up to 1 1/2 cups additional chicken stock.
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2014