Pressure Cooker Tortellini Soup
This hearty one pot meal was inspired by a soup that has been a family favorite for decades. Its quick and easy to make with little prep time, it can be made with either dried, frozen or refrigerated pasta, fresh or frozen vegetables, and its got great appeal for kids and adults alike. If you’re using fresh vegetables, this is also a good recipe to get children involved in meal prep: older kids can peel and cut the carrots, younger kids can cut the stems off the spinach leaves. Kids are more interested and emotionally invested in food they’ve helped make themselves, the bright colors have great visual appeal, and the fresh flavor of the vegetables makes them tastier. To stretch out the soup even further, you can add pre-cooked white beans (navy or Cannellini beans) or bite size chunks of chicken. I’ve also included instructions for preparing gluten free, GMO free (organic), diabetic friendly and freezer meal versions of this soup.
In late 2014, I was watching the news coverage of a big snow storm in the Northeast, where the snow had come down so heavily, so fast, and the weather was so cold, that some unfortunate people had literally been trapped in their houses by the wall of frozen ice blocking the doors and windows of their homes. It got me thinking about our own natural disaster preparedness (being snowed in isn’t likely, but we do live in earthquake country) and what I’d be doing to provide the house with hot meals on cold nights if grocery store trips were out of the question and I hadn’t done a recent grocery run. News coverage of the recent polar vortex reminded me that I need to post my suggested recipes, dishes that can be made with pantry, freezer or common refrigerator items, that require little or no prep work, and where you can have a hot meal ready in short order.
The first dish I thought of was one of my mother’s favorites – tortellini soup – which she has been making for over thirty years. (I’d credit the source of the recipe, but she can’t remember where she got it from, and I’ve used her recipe only as inspiration.) Whereas she used refrigerated pasta, I use Barilla Dried Tortellini: dried pasta has a much longer shelf life (and any time I can save precious refrigerator / freezer space it’s a plus), dried tortellini is often less expensive per ounce than refrigerated pasta, and the Barilla tortellini actually won Cook’s Illustrated’s taste test over a number of refrigerated or frozen tortellinis, so its win, win, win.
Ingredient Substitutions. Tortellini. This recipe is designed for dried tortellini, but if you really want to use frozen or fresh pasta, you can certainly substitute. You should probably increase your cooking time under pressure 1 minute if you’re using frozen tortellini, and decrease it 1 minute if you’re using fresh tortellini (fresh pasta cooks much quicker than dried, so please bear in mind it will probably be well done, not al dente). I wouldn’t recommend the dried mini tortellini, however, unless you already have them, they are far more expensive per ounce and they will cook more quickly (reduce time under pressure 1 minute). Carrots. You can use either fresh or frozen carrots (either crinkle cut or diced), both will work. Spinach. You can substitute any fresh green (swiss chard, spinach, kale) for the spinach, just remember to remove the stems, cut it into small pieces and only add your greens after pressure cooking the rest of the soup. You can also use regular spinach instead of baby spinach, but I find after all the work of removing the stems, trimming and cleaning, baby spinach seems a much more attractive option, both in terms of expense and time management. Shallots. For those of you who are unfamiliar with shallots, they are a member of the onion and garlic family, but their flavor is more delicate and less assertive. If you can find them in your grocery store at a reasonable price, you can substitute twice the amount of fresh shallots for dried shallots. But I have difficulty finding them most of the year, even at an unreasonable price, so I’ve turned to buying Dried Minced Shallots: they are often less expensive that way, I don’t have to mince them up, I have them on hand whenever I want to use them, and they last a lot longer than fresh ones do. But you can substitute dried minced onion if you wish.
Non GMO and Gluten Free Versions of this Recipe. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find either gluten free or GMO-free (organic) dried, commercially available tortellini. However, I was able to find Gluten Free Cheese Ravioli and Organic Basil, Asiago and Pine Nut Pesto Ravioli, both of which could be substituted for the tortellini in this recipe, without changing the cooking instructions. If you are cooking for someone with Celiac disease, or who is gluten sensitive, remember that you need to purchase gluten free broth: see Campbell’s / Swanson’s List of Gluten Free Broths (US Version) and Campbell’s / Swanson’s List of Gluten Free Broths (Canada Version) for their lists of GF broths and stocks.
Low Carb / Diabetic Friendly Instructions. For those who are watching their carbs or cooking for diabetics, filled pasta is a good way to fool yourself into thinking you’re having more pasta than is actually the case. The key here is portion control: one ounce (approximately 18 pieces) of the Barilla three cheese tortellini, which is what I used for this recipe, contributes just 17 grams of carbohydrates and 110 calories to this soup. (Don’t be fooled by the small size of the dried pasta, the tortellini will increase in size several times when cooked.) I’ve also prepared a Table of Dried and Refrigerated Filled Pasta of commonly available tortellini and ravioli, if you want to use a different brand. According to Cronometer, a sixth portion of this soup will have 30 carbs. The protein and fat in the cheese will help lower the glycemic load of the overall meal, as will the rest of the ingredients: carrots have a glycemic load of three (3), the glycemic load for spinach is even lower and both carrots and spinach are good sources of fiber, which will also contribute to lowering the glycemic load of the dish. If you’d like to slow gastric emptying even further, you could also add diced chicken or pre-cooked white beans (navy or Cannellini beans) or follow the freezer meal instructions below. Refrigerating the pasta for 24 hours before eating will allow some of the starches to retrograde, which slows carbohydrate digestion even further.
Freezer Meal Instructions. To me, the optimal way to make this soup as a freezer meal would be to leave the tortellini dried, the broth in the can, and to blanch the fresh carrots and spinach in boiling water for a minute, then plunge it into ice water to stop the cooking process. Once cooled, squeeze as much of the liquid out of the spinach as you can, and store the vegetables in a freezer Ziploc bag. (The spices can be measured and put inside a small Ziploc snack bag inside the freezer bag for the vegetables.) If you want to make the whole soup in advance, pressure cook the pasta in 2 cups of chicken broth for 1 minute on high, drain it in a colander, and run cold water over it. Refrigerate the pasta by itself for at least 24 hours: refrigerating the pasta like this will help keep it from absorbing all the soup broth. Then make the rest of the soup, minus the 2 cups of broth you already used, and once cooled to room temperature, add the pasta in. Then freeze the soup in containers small enough that you’ll be able to defrost and re-heat your soup inside your pressure cooker.
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced or chopped dried onion
1 tablespoon Dried Shallots (can substitute minced onion)
1 tablespoon of Chicken Base
½ teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
1 pound frozen carrot coins or 1 ½ pounds fresh carrots
6 ounces of dried cheese tortellini
¼ cup dry vermouth or white wine
3 – 15 ounce cans (6 cups) of chicken broth or chicken stock
5 ounces frozen chopped spinach or 6 – 8 ounces fresh baby spinach
Parmesan cheese for garnish (optional)
Electric Pressure Cooker
12″ Silicone Tipped Tongs
6″ Chef’s Knife
Potato peeler (if using fresh carrots)
Poultry shears (if using fresh spinach)
- Add ½ teaspoon of coarsely ground pepper and 1 tablespoon each of dried chopped onion, dried minced garlic, dried shallots and chicken base to the pressure cooker pot.
- If you’re using fresh carrots, peel them and cut them into ¼” inch thick coins. I like to cut them at either a 45° or 60° angle to make the carrot pieces larger and to give them more visual interest. Add the cut carrots to the pressure cooker. If you’re using frozen carrots, add them directly to the pot: there’s no need to defrost them.
- Add the tortellini on top of the carrot coins. Do not mix them in, leave them on top. The carrots prevent the tortellini from sticking to the bottom of the pressure cooker. Add 6 cups of chicken broth or chicken stock and ¼ cup of vermouth or white wine (optional). Lock the pressure cooker lid, and pressure cook for 2 minutes at HIGH PRESSURE (10 PSI) using QUICK RELEASE.
- While the rest of the soup cooks, trim the stems from the fresh baby spinach leaves and wash it, if needed. (I find the poultry shears work faster for me, but you can use a knife if you prefer.) Alternatively, if you are using frozen spinach, use your chef’s knife to shave thin slices of spinach leaves from the box of frozen spinach until you’ve shaved off approximately half of the box.
- When the timer goes off, turn the machine off and manually release the pressure. Remove the lid, holding it at an angle, with one edge of the lid tilted up, and the top of the lid facing towards you, so any hot liquid falls back into the pot and your face is shielded from any released steam. When you’re ready to serve the soup, gently stir the spinach leaves into the tortellini soup. The soup is hot enough to cook the spinach. Ladle the finished soup into bowls and garnish with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
KIDS COOKING TIP: If you want to encourage your kids to eat vegetables, motivate them by including them in meal preparation. If they help grow the vegetables or prepare the meal, they become more invested in eating the results. Obviously, children shouldn’t operate a pressure cooker, but this is a good recipe where kids can be assigned discrete, relatively easy tasks and can help with meal prep. Older kids can use a potato peeler and Kid Safe Chef Knives and younger children can use a clean pair of Blunt Tipped Kid Safe Scissors to cut the stems off the spinach leaves.
SPINACH TIP: Because spinach is so tender, it can easily overcook. Because it gets its beautiful green color from chlorophyll, it can also lose that lovely color if it cooks too long. To avoid both these problems, don’t add the spinach until after pressure cooking the rest of the soup, and no more than a few minutes before service. The soup will be piping hot when pressure is released, and there will be more than enough residual heat left to cook the spinach properly. If you add the spinach too long before service, it will turn an olive green color and be less visually appealing, but it will still be tasty. (The color will change in leftover soup, and there’s nothing you can do about that, but it’ll still be delicious.)
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon minced or chopped dried onion
- 1 tablespoon Dried Shallots (can substitute minced onion)
- 1 tablespoon of Chicken Base
- ½ teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
- 1 pound frozen carrot coins or 1 ½ pounds fresh carrots
- 6 ounces of dried cheese tortellini
- ¼ cup dry vermouth or white wine
- 3 – 15 ounce cans (6 cups) of chicken broth or chicken stock
- 5 ounces frozen chopped spinach or 6 – 8 ounces fresh baby spinach
- Parmesan cheese for garnish (optional)
- Add 1 tablespoon each of dried chopped onion, dried minced garlic, dried shallots and chicken base plus ½ teaspoon of coarsely ground pepper to the pressure cooker pot.
- For fresh carrots, peel them and cut them into ¼ inch thick coins. (I like to cut them at a 45° or 60° angle to make them larger and more visually interesting.) For frozen carrots, there's no need to defrost them. Add the carrots to the pot.
- Add the tortellini on top of the carrots. Add 6 cups of chicken broth and ¼ cup of vermouth or white wine to the pot. Pressure cook for 2 minutes at HIGH PRESSURE (10 PSI) using QUICK RELEASE.
- While the rest of the soup cooks, clean the spinach leaves and remove the stems. If using frozen spinach, use your chef's knife to shave thin strips of the frozen leaves off half the box of frozen spinach.
- When the timer goes off, turn off the pressure cooker and quick release the pressure. Unlock the lid, holding it like a shield, with the top facing toward you and the lid at an angle so all the hot broth falls back into the pot. When you're ready to eat, gently stir the spinach leaves into the soup, wait 2 minutes, then ladle it into your bowls. Garnish with a tiny sprinkle of Parmesan cheese for an extra savory flavor boost.