Creamy Tortellini, Chicken & Spinach Soup

So, I have been really intrigued by one of my friends, who has been hosting freezer meal workshops. She is quite entrepreneurial and has her hands in several pots, but clearly food is a theme amongst many of them – something which of course appeals to me. The other thing which really made me take a long look at what she was doing… twins! This amazing mummy has new twins, with an added 2 year old toddler AND she makes dinner, which looks like every night! This was something I HAD to look further into.

So, I just inundated her with requests for help.

Selfish I know. I am not really that proud of harassing a mother of newborn babies. But seriously, it sounded like she was coping better than I am. Each night I am plagued with the drama of dinners for the kids and then my own. It isn’t pretty. The ‘witching hour’ in our household has extended from 4.30pm to bedtime. It now includes the dinner preparation, eating (aka yelling at the kids to sit down again and again and  to finish their dinner, for over an hour), followed by a brief clean up, into the usual bathing and bedtime routine.

I had successfully implemented a new dinner routine which was actually relieving me of some panic over what to cook for when (Let me be clear, this is completely different to my own cooking which is something I look forward to. Cooking for kids… that is a different story.) I have a post about this coming up later. Meanwhile, the idea of having dinner pretty much done already, and it not being take away or a ready meal, this was something I could really get into. More over I was seeing how these freezer meals were saving people money. Another thing I could really get into, given our recent move and stricter budget.

Each month, my friend, posts up a menu of different recipes for her workshops with a suggested date for getting together. On this date, a group of mummies then get together and prepare their meals for the month. A lot of the recipes use the slow cooker (something I am only just getting into), but not all of them do.

Now, this recipe came up in her feed a while back, and it immediately stood out, by name alone. Before I received the sacred bible of recipes from my friend (my pestering worked!) I managed to find a few pins of this recipe and decided to give it a try. I didn’t have a slow cooker at the time, so I used the ‘old fashioned’ method of using the oven on a low temperature with an enamelled casserole pot. I tested out the ‘stop’ cook function on my oven for about two weeks beforehand. Making sure the oven did actually stop cooking, which it did. And then I felt confident to proceed.

The recipe was simple enough. I made a few tweaks for the version I cooked immediately, over the other version which I frozen. I wouldn’t say the results different significantly either. What surprised me most, was that my kids actually loved it. They professed how great a cook I was, so much so, I wondered what they had done wrong earlier and were trying to hide. It was a great success.

I also served it up for an impromptu dinner when some friends stayed on over dinner time. I was relieved to see they also enjoyed it. I’ve made it so many times, I committed myself to an Instant Pot (a slow cooker of sorts) and filled the freezer with a few bags of this. It is honestly one of the easiest meals to make and pretty much only requires you to be able to measure, cut up a few items and press a few buttons then leave it until dinner time. Busy mums rejoice!

If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can easily cook this with an enamelled casserole pot in a slow oven. I found 140C worked well for me, for the 4-6 hrs. I also found when preparing this as a freezer meal, I found my new fridge was not very good at defrosting, and I would come to remove the food from the fridge, only to find it still rock solid. As a result, I found it best to exclude the chicken stock until I put it into the slow cooker. This is easy enough for me, but don’t feel compelled to follow suit. I have left the instructions to include it. Also, I found when preparing this as a freezer meal, I didn’t prepare the roux beforehand, it all went into the pot at the same time, and it turned out the same. Somehow, I still find it difficult to stick to this method when preparing it on the same day. Again, feel free to modify this to work for you.

Serves 6-8

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Adapted from several sources

  • 3 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1 Medium Onion, finely chopped
  • 2 Garlic Cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup Plain Flour
  • 2 Tbsp Tomato Paste
  • 2 pints (1L or 4 cups) Chicken Stock
  • 2 tins Chopped Tomato
  • 450g – 600g (1-1.5lbs) Chicken Breast or Thighs, boneless and skin removed
  • 1 Tbsp Basil, dried
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1/2 tsp Black Pepper

(Remaining ingredients needed on the day of cooking)

  • 2 pkgs Cheese Tortellini, fresh, frozen or dried
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan, Grated (or dairy free alternative)
  • 1 cup cream (or 1 pkg of soya cream alternative – this is what I use and no one noticed it wasn’t cream)
  • 3 cups Spinach, packed (or 6 lumps of frozen spinach)

Method – for making on the same day

Begin by making the roux, heat the olive oil in a saucepan and gently sauté the onions and garlic. When they are soft and translucent, add the tomato paste and flour, stirring to make a paste. Heat this gently over medium heat to cook the flour, then slowly add a cup of the chicken stock to make a smooth paste. (You can do this on sauté in your instant pot and then change over to slow cook once you add the stock.) Pour the sauce into your slow cooker with the remaining stock, the tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper. Give it a bit of a stir before adding the chicken. Cook on LOW for 4-6 hrs, or on HIGH for 3-4 hrs. The chicken should be very tender.

Remove the lid and remove the chicken to a chopping board. Cut the chicken into bite size pieces and add this back into the slow cooker along with the tortellini, parmesan, cream and spinach. (You will want to warm your cream if it is cold to prevent it curdling when added to the slow cooker. I found the soya cream didn’t need this if you used the UHT packets kept at room temperature.) Place the lid back on the slow cooker and continue to cook until the tortellini has cooked through, this should take about 10-15 mins for fresh pasta, and a little longer for the dried.

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Method – for freezing

In a large freezer bag, add in the first 11 ingredients: from olive oil through to black pepper.) If you are preparing your own stock, ensure it is cooled before adding it to the bag, alternatively leave it out until you are making your meal in the slow cooker. Label your bag and freeze for up to three months.

The night before you plan to make your meal, remove the meal from the freezer and allow to defrost in the fridge overnight. Place in the slow cooker (adding the chicken stock if you didn’t include it in your bag already) and cook on LOW for 4-6 hrs, or HIGH for 3-4 hrs.

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Remove the lid and remove the chicken to a chopping board. Cut the chicken into bite size pieces and add this back into the slow cooker along with the tortellini, parmesan, cream and spinach. (You will want to warm your cream if it is cold to prevent it curdling when added to the slow cooker. I found the soya cream didn’t need this if you used the UHT packets kept at room temperature.) Place the lid back on the slow cooker and continue to cook until the tortellini has cooked through, this should take about 10-15 mins for fresh pasta, and a little longer for the dried.

 

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