Okay, so a food photographer I am not. This is 1/2 pound bulk pork sausage cooking up as the first step to creating this amazing soup. (Can I just say that, as I type this, the soup is about halfway finished, and my house already smells amazing. I can't wait for lunch.)
Some other ingredients I needed: parsley, basil, tomato puree, minced garlic, oregano, apple cider vinegar, beef broth, carrots (mine are matchsticks), zucchini (I bought several on sale, grated them up, and froze them in individual sized bags just for this purpose.), diced onion. On the left side, you can see a tiny corner of a cookie sheet. That cookie sheet is filled with breadsticks from an http://www.ourbestbites.com/ recipe, and they go great with this soup. On the right hand side, you can see my laptop with this recipe. I wonder how many times I'll make this soup before I'll have it memorized. I've made it at least a dozen times and I'd still be lost after the brown-the-sausage-and-add-onions-and-garlic phase.
Before I go any further, I need to give props to Kate and Sara at http://www.ourbestbites.com/. Seriously, I don't know what my family did for food before I stumbled upon this blog in the spring. About half of what I make comes from this blog! I wait anxiously for each new post, and I'm constantly adding their recipes to my "try these tasty eats" folder on my favorites.
I rarely vary from a recipes ingredients or steps, because I'm terrified of messing things up. I can say, though, that I make several tweeks to this soup and haven't had disastrous results.
Tortellini Sausage Soup
3 links Italian sausage (I use 1/2 lb. bulk sausage) $1.50
4 cloves minced garlic ($.12)
1 onion, diced (I use 1/2 an onion because I don't care for a lot of onion, and I get to make the call since I'm the one cooking!) $.25
1/2 c. water (I usually use double this, since I like to make the soup really stretch.) $0
2 cans chicken broth (I use beef.) $1.29 (BOGO)
1/2 c. apple cider (I use 1 - 1 1/2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar.) $.10
1 16 oz. can diced tomato
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce (I use a 29 oz. can of tomato puree. I don't like chunks of tomato. Again, I get to make that kind of substitution cuz I'm the one cooking, and usually no one is the wiser.) $1.89
1 c. sliced carrots ($.30)
1 tsp. dried basil ($.03)
1 tsp. dried oregano ($.03)
2 medium zucchini, grated (I use only about 1/2 of a zucchini.) $.50
8-10 oz. package frozen tortellini ($3.59)
2 Tbsp. dried parsley ($.18)
Total: $9.78. That seems like a lot of money for one soup meal! But it's oh-so-filling; I usually have leftovers for another meal or late night snack. Plus, it's still MUCH cheaper than going out for a soup lunch at Olive Garden or Panera Bread. I serve this with sprinkles of parmesan cheese and fresh breadsticks, which brings the total closer to $12 for the meal. I'm okay with that, really.
Brown the sausage. Drain fat if necessary. (I've never had enough to worry about draining.)
Add the onions and garlic, and cook just for a few minutes.
Add water, broth, cider or vinegar, tomatoes, carrots, basil, and oregano. Simmer for 30 minutes.
Add zucchini and parsley. Simmer for 15 minutes.
Add tortellini. Simmer for about 10 minutes.
(I usually divide my soup into two parts before adding the pasta. The grownups like tortellini, but the kids don't care for the cheese. I take a portion of the soup, put it in another pot, and add some kind of fun little pasta shape (today it's wheels), and cook for 7 minutes. That way, they get what they like, and it's more tortellini for me!)