Tomato Florentine Soup
This is a great, one pot meal for fall and winter: its piping hot, hearty and delicious with tomatoes, Italian sausage, pasta, carrots, spinach, & a slightly spicy tomato broth. Its also a budget friendly meal that uses only 1 pound of sausage, yet serves 6 – 8, or for smaller families, provides enough leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch or a freezer meal. The soup would also make a great potluck dish: you can prep most of the items in advance, even freeze them, and then take your digital pressure cooker and the ingredients to your potluck and make the soup “fresh” on the spot, and even use your machine to keep your soup warm. The instructions will teach you a method for preparing the pasta so that it will retain its texture and won’t absorb all the broth. The recipe also includes diabetic friendly instructions and menu suggestions for those who need to watch their carb intake and blood sugar levels.
There were a few bright spots, however, soups I actually liked, and this recipe is inspired by one of them: Progresso Tomato Florentine Soup with Italian Sausage. What’s not to like? Its got tomatoes, sausage, pasta, and fresh vegetables like carrots and spinach, and best of all, the broth has a subtle little spicy kick. But my version is even better, because the pasta and vegetables aren’t overcooked, the carrots taste like carrots, the spinach is fresh and bright green, and the pressure cooker does wonders for the flavor of tomatoes and chiles like nothing else. I tried several different ingredients to provide the spicy touch, some better than others, but those who live in Nawlins won’t be surprised to hear that the one I liked best, that complimented the tomatoes so well, and provided a subtle, but complex spiciness, was the classic Tabasco sauce. (Not a traditional Italian ingredient, but then tomatoes aren’t native to Italy either, and you go with what works.)
How to Keep Pasta from Absorbing Liquids. If you’ve already looked over the cooking instructions, you are probably wondering why the pasta is cooked the day before the rest of the soup. This will be explained in greater detail on the Resistant Starch section of my Pressure Cooking Pasta page (coming soon), but for now, what we are basically doing is cooking the pasta to the al dente stage, then refrigerating it at least overnight, and preferably for 24 hours, to allow some of the ruptured starch bonds to re-crystallize. Some of these re-formed links are actually stronger than their original network, but the cooked and refrigerated pasta has two unique advantages: first, if allowed sufficient time to retrograde, the pasta will absorb virtually no additional liquid, so it won’t soak up your soup broth and become mushy. This picture of the soup was taken several hours after it was made: the pasta has kept its shape and texture, its not soggy, and there’s lots of lovely tomato broth. Secondly, the retrograded pasta becomes partially resistant to digestion, which means it will be digested more slowly, and shouldn’t spike your blood sugar levels as high as freshly cooked pasta would. This is important for those who are diabetic, pre-diabetic or who for other reasons need to moderate their blood sugar levels.
Diabetic Friendly Cooking Instructions and Menu Suggestions. This recipe is already written to be as diabetic friendly as possible, with a few minor tweaks. I will explain in greater detail, with charts of the carb content per ounce of widely available pasta brands, how to choose the best pasta for diabetics in the Lower Carb Pasta section (coming soon), but if you want to minimize the glycemic load of the pasta in this soup, instead of farfalle, choose a shorter, thicker, extruded pasta like rotelle, rotini or gemelli. Also, although the carb numbers don’t vary as widely with diced tomatoes as they do with pasta sauce, you’ll want to choose diced tomatoes with no added sugar or high fructose corn syrup. I prepared a Table of Carbs in Canned Diced Tomatoes for ease of reference: Kirkland Signature Organic Diced Tomatoes had the lowest carbs per ounce, and for those who have high blood pressure issues, Muir Glen has a no-salt version where the numbers are pretty good, and not surprisingly, the two worst products have added sugar (avoid those). To reduce calories, use ground chicken or ground turkey instead of sausage, and mix in my Homemade Italian Sausage spice blend to make it taste more like Italian sausage.
I would also recommend that the easiest way of restricting yourself to the permitted serving size of pasta (generally recognized as ½ cup of cooked pasta per meal) is not to add the pre-cooked pasta to the pressure cooked soup at all. Follow the instructions as written, omitting the pasta from the assembled soup. Instead, add the recommended serving to individual soup bowls, and after you’ve added the spinach to the pot, ladle the hot soup over the pasta to heat it up. The broth will be more than hot enough to warm up your pasta. This is a very hearty, filling soup, so it can be a one pot meal by itself, but if you’d like to reduce the overall glycemic load of your meal even further, I recommend pairing it with lighter, high fiber vegetables like steamed broccoli or artichokes (you can pressure cook jumbo artichokes with my recipe in about half an hour) or use any remaining fresh spinach to make a spinach salad.
Freezer Meal Instructions. This makes a great one pot freezer meal (brown your sausage in the pressure cooker if you want to use only one pot), and it can be both prepared and reheated in your pressure cooker. You can freeze your soup, completely made, or freeze the leftovers, in Ziploc freezer bags or a container smaller than your pressure cooker pot, then you don’t even have to defrost it, you can remove the frozen soup from the bag, put it in the pressure cooker, and cook it for 1 minute on High Pressure. Since I’m always short on freezer space, I prefer to make what I call “deconstructed” freezer meals: in this case, I’d prepare and freeze the sausage and pasta separately, and either use commercially frozen carrot coins or blanch and freeze diced carrots myself, in pre-measured amounts, and then assemble the soup, using canned tomatoes and fresh spinach. For those cooking for diabetics, remember to allow the pasta to refrigerate for 24 hours (to allow starch retrogradation) before freezing it, then freeze it in individually wrapped half cup increments, so you use only the recommended serving for each meal.
Cooking spray or vegetable oil
4 ounces of farfalle pasta
(diabetics should substitute rotelle, rotini or gemelli)
½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1 tablespoon dried onion
1 tablespoon dried minced garlic
1 tablespoon Chicken Base
½ teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
1 pound commercial or Homemade Italian Sausage,
lightly browned and drained
2 cups of ¼” diced carrot (dice then measure)
1 – 15 ounce can (2 cups) chicken broth
2 – 28 ounce cans of diced tomatoes, including liquid
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 teaspoon of Tabasco Sauce
2 tablespoons vodka
5 ounces fresh spinach (either regular or baby spinach)
Electric Pressure Cooker
12″ Silicone Tipped Tongs
Colander or strainer
Gallon Ziploc bag / aluminum foil lined cookie sheet
- Advance Preparation (Day Before): If your electronic pressure cooker has a stainless steel inner pot, spray or brush a thin coat of vegetable oil on the bottom of the insert. Add 4 ounces of dried pasta, ½ teaspoon of kosher salt and 1 cup of cold water to your pressure cooker. Pressure cook on HIGH PRESSURE (10 PSI) for 4 minutes using QUICK RELEASE. (If you are using rotini, rotelle or gemelli, increase time under pressure to 6 minutes.) While the pasta is cooking, get out your colander and either your 12″ tongs or a long soup spoon and place the colander in the sink.
- When the timer goes off, turn the machine off, and release the pressure manually. When pressure is fully released, unlock the lid, holding it at an angle over the pot to allow any hot water to fall back inside. Remove the inner pot and pour the cooked pasta into the colander. Run cold water over the pasta, stirring the pasta with your tongs or soup ladle until the pasta is cool enough to handle.
- Once the pasta has cooled enough to handle, spread the pasta across a cookie sheet lined with tinfoil or spread it out inside a gallon size Ziploc bag. Spreading it out will discourage sticking while the pasta finishes cooling down. Refrigerate at least overnight, or preferably, 24 hours, before making your soup (or before freezing the pasta as part of your freezer meal).
- Day of Service: If you have a pressure cooker with a stainless steel inner pot, spray or brush a small amount of vegetable oil on the bottom of the pot. Add the dried onion, dried garlic, coarsely ground pepper and chicken base to the pressure cooker.
- Add the pre-cooked Italian sausage to the pressure cooker. If you haven’t already cooked your sausage, the fastest way to brown it would be in a skillet over medium high heat. If you want fewer dishes, you should brown and drain the meat over paper towels before adding the seasonings listed in Step 4.
- Peel the carrots, cutting off the stem end and tip of the root. I then cut them into long pieces, usually at the points where they change thickness, and from there into approximately ¼” planks. I then cut the planks into a ¼” dice. Measure the diced carrots and then add on top of the Italian sausage.
- Add the pre-cooked pasta on top of the carrots. (If you are cooking for diabetics, reserve the pasta to add in the recommended serving to each individual bowl after the soup has been pressure cooked.) Pour chicken broth around the edges, to make sure as much as possible reaches the bottom of the pot.
- Add the diced tomatoes, juice from the diced tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, 2 tablespoons of vodka and 1 teaspoon of Tabasco sauce to the pot. Do not stir. You layer the ingredients in the pot in a specific order to keep the pasta and tomatoes as far away from the bottom as possible, to prevent sticking or scorching. Lock the pressure cooker lid. Pressure cook the soup on HIGH PRESSURE (10 PSI) for 2 minutes using QUICK RELEASE.
- While the rest of the soup is pressure cooking, thoroughly wash and prepare the spinach. If you are using baby spinach, use your kitchen shears to snip the stem ends off. If you are using regular spinach, snip off the stem ends and any thicker ribs, then cut any larger leaves into several pieces.
- When the timer goes off, quick release the pressure. When pressure has been completely released, unlock and remove the lid, hold the top facing toward you, at an angle, and over the pot, and let any hot liquid fall back into the pressure cooker. Set the lid aside, and use your soup ladle to thoroughly stir and distribute the soup ingredients. Taking a handful of spinach at a time, add it to the soup, stirring it into the hot broth to lightly cook it.
- Serve the soup immediately after the last of the spinach has been incorporated. If you’re cooking for diabetics or those watching their carbs, add the measured pasta to the individual soup bowls and ladle the hot soup over the pasta (the soup broth is hot enough to heat the pasta in the bowl). Garnish with a small amount of grated parmesan or Italian cheese blend – Parmesan cheese has a lot of umami and adds such a great savory flavor to this soup!
FREEZER MEAL TIP: For those who will be using the pasta for freezer meals, as explained more fully above, be sure to refrigerate the pasta for at least 24 hours before freezing it. Freezing temperatures are too low, and will prevent much of the re-crystallization that is needed for the pasta to achieve retrogradation.
TABASCO TIP: This recipe is designed to be mildly spicy, mild enough that even children can eat it without problem. (If its still too spicy, serve a glass of milk or a dollop of sour cream with the soup, it blocks the capsaicin from reacting with the tongue.) Keep the Tabasco bottle on the table for those who want to add even more spice. But exercise a slow and careful hand when adding more Tabasco to your soup: capsaicin, which gives chiles their “spice”, bonds to receptors on the tongue, and we’ve observed in my household that its effect is almost “cumulative”, that is, that adding what we perceive to be the right amount of spice at the start of a dish may well seem excessive by the end of it.
SPINACH TIP: Don’t add the spinach to the hot soup until after pressure cooking it, and immediately before serving. As explained more fully in the green vegetable section of my Chicken Alphabet Soup recipe, green vegetables like spinach, broccoli, and other leafy greens that derive their green color from chlorophyll, lose their beautiful green color when exposed to high temperatures for more than a few minutes. If you wait to add the spinach to the pot until right before service, the spinach will not only be perfectly cooked by the time you eat it, but will retain its beautiful vibrant color for longer after service.
Please note: The majority of the estimated "cooking time" allowed here is for the pressure cooker to come up to pressure (twice). Actual time under pressure is fairly brief.
- Cooking spray or vegetable oil
- 4 ounces of farfalle pasta (diabetics should substitute rotelle, rotini or gemelli)
- ½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon dried onion
- 1 tablespoon dried minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon Chicken Base
- ½ teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
- 1 pound commercial or Homemade Italian Sausage, lightly browned and drained
- 2 cups of ¼" diced carrot (dice then measure)
- 1 – 15 ounce can (2 cups) chicken broth
- 2 – 28 ounce cans of diced tomatoes, including liquid
- 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon of Tabasco Sauce
- 2 tablespoons vodka
- 5 ounces fresh spinach (either regular or baby spinach)
- Advanced Preparation (Day Before): If you have a machine with a stainless steel insert, spray or brush a small amount of vegetable oil on the bottom of the insert. Add pasta, ½ teaspoon of kosher salt and a cup of water and pressure cook at HIGH PRESSURE (10 PSI) for 4 minutes using QUICK RELEASE. If using gemelli, rotini or rotelle, add an additional 2 minutes under pressure.
- When the timer goes off, quick release the pressure. Unlock the lid, holding it at an angle over the pot to allow the hot water to fall back into the pot. Dump the pasta into the colander, and run cold water over it, stirring with your tongs, until the pasta is cool to the touch.
- Spread the cooled pasta inside a gallon size Ziploc bag or across an aluminum foil covered cookie sheet. Refrigerate at least 8 hours (24 is better) before either freezing or making your soup.
- Day of Service: Add the dried minced onion, garlic, coarsely ground pepper and chicken base to your pressure cooker.
- Add the pre-cooked sausage. (If you haven't cooked it already, lightly brown it in a skillet over medium high heat, or in the pressure cooker on "Saute", then drain on paper towels before adding the meat and seasonings to the pot.
- Peel and dice the carrots into approximately ¼" pieces. Measure 2 cups of diced carrot and add on top of the sausage.
- Unless you are following the diabetic instructions, add the cooked and refrigerated pasta on top of the carrots. Add the chicken broth to the pot, pouring it around the edges to make sure as much of it reaches the bottom of the insert as possible.
- Add the canned diced tomatoes (with juice), tomato paste, vodka and Tabasco sauce on top of the carrots. DO NOT stir the ingredients. Lock the lid and pressure cook at HIGH PRESSURE (10 PSI) for 2 minutes using QUICK RELEASE.
- While the rest of the soup cooks, clean and trim the spinach. I recommend snipping the stems off both regular and baby spinach, and cutting regular spinach into smaller pieces.
- When the timer goes off, quick release pressure. Remove the lid, holding it like a shield with the top facing you, and at an angle, so any hot liquid will fall back into the soup. Stir the soup to incorporate the ingredients. When you're ready to serve, add a handful of spinach at a time, stirring to mix it into the broth.
- Serve the soup as soon as the spinach has been incorporated. For diabetics, add the recommended serving of pasta to individual bowls and ladle the hot soup over the pasta to warm it. Garnish with grated Parmesan or Italian blend cheese.