Researchers at the University of Michigan have discovered that cheese can produce feelings of euphoria, not unlike the ones associated with hard drug addiction. This might explain why I’m currently obsessed with this soup. At first glance, it looks like a bowl of not much to brag about; pieces of penne pasta bathing in a tomato-y broth alongside ingredients that roughly resemble beef bolognese. Essentially, that’s exactly what it is, but what you can’t see is the magical blanket of fresh mozzarella laying on the bottom of the bowl. The one that becomes warm and melty, and infuses each bite with gooey cheese that stretches effortlessly from bowl to mouth.
As is the case with most of the meals in our house, we all ate our bowls of soup a little differently. My beloved Ben isn’t as pathologically obsessed with cheese as the rest of us (honestly, he hates the stuff unless it’s on pizza) so he ate his soup as is. Matthew munched on noodles, chunks of cheese, some of the veggies and a bit of broth, while the rest of us ate it the way it’s meant to be served. It was also dished up on a night when we were eating at different times, so I prepped the soup portion of the meal early in the day, cooked the pasta separately and tossed it with olive oil to prevent sticking, and then kept it at room temperature until it was time to eat. When we were ready, the mozzarella slices were placed in the bowl, a large handful of pasta scattered over top, and hot brothy soup ladled in to fill the bowls.
For a twist on your typical meat sauce, I started the recipe with seasoned sausage squeezed from the casings. Not only is this one of my favourite recipe shortcuts, it’s also a guaranteed way to add good, deep flavour without too many ingredients. To it, I added onions, carrots, celery and garlic, and simmered everything in some store-bought marinara (use homemade if you have it!). Finally, four cups of chicken stock were tipped into the pot, creating a rich base to spoon over the noodles and cheese.
I used penne because that’s what I had in my pantry, but if you can find it I think mafalda pasta, with its ribboned sides that closely mirror traditional lasagna noodles, would be a better option. There’s also nothing to say that you couldn’t break up those ordinary lasagna noodles into smaller pieces and use them instead. Lastly, do not be afraid to spoon a dollop of pesto or fresh ricotta on top of this soup; the result will be nothing but moan-worthy.
Serves 4 - 6
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 lb. Italian sausage (mild or hot), casings removed
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3 small carrots, diced
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 3 cup marinara sauce
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 450 g penne pasta
- Fresh mozzarella cheese
- Parmesan cheese
- Optional: ricotta cheese, pesto, fresh spinach
1. In a Dutch oven or medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium to medium-high heat. Add the sausage and brown, crumbling it with the back of a wooden spoon.
2. Add the onions, carrots, celery and garlic and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in the marinara sauce, reduce the heat slightly and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Add the chicken stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for another 10 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions and drain well.
5. To serve the soup, lay slices of fresh mozzarella (as many as you like) on the bottom of the bowl and top with 3/4 cup of cooked pasta. Ladle the hot soup over top, filling the bowl. Garnish with parmesan cheese and serve.
- Make the soup portion of the recipe on the weekend and tuck it into the fridge or freezer for a future weeknight meal. When you’re ready to eat it, cook some pasta, heat the soup and you’ll have dinner on the table in less than 15 minutes.