This post is not for the lactose intolerant among you. It’s not for people who don’t love, and I mean really, really love, cheese. Close your browser window. Alt-F4. Come back tomorrow, and maybe we’ll have something that better suits your needs. This, right here, is a bowl of molten cheese. It’s exactly the kind of family-friendly fusion, where you take two favorite dishes and drive them at each other at full speed, and then serve the head-on collision, that made Rachael Ray and her gigantic oval ceramic casserole dishes a household name. It’s the kind of soup that made Jillian start writing a set of vow renewals. It’s not just a soup: it’s like eating a piping hot bowl of liquid pizza.
The secret doesn’t lie in the broth, or in the pound-and-a-half of Italian sausage, or in the kinds of tomatoes you use. The secret this soup holds is a cheesy payload underneath the soup itself, a mixture of ricotta cheese, Parmesan, and shredded mozzarella that you ladle the steaming hot soup on top of. The cheese melts instantly, while the very inside of the scoop of ricotta stays slightly cooler. As you eat the soup, you nibble the edges off the scoop of ricotta with the side of the spoon, adding a cool creaminess to every bite, even as the mozzarella melts completely, leaving long strands connecting your spoon to your bowl. It’s unbelievably rich, filling fare; perfect as the nights here in Maine grow colder, where instead of turning your endlessly thirsty thermostat up, you put on another sweatshirt, fill yourself to the brim with molten cheese, and wait for the thaw to come.
Adapted from a recipe in 300 Sensational Soups; Serves 8
For the soup:
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 1/2 pounds Italian sausage, mix of hot and sweet
- 2 white onions, chopped
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes (with liquid)
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 32-ounce packages chicken stock (about 8 cups)
- 8 ounces fusilli pasta
- 1/2 cup, fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the cheesy payload:
- 8 ounces ricotta
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Pinch of freshly ground pepper
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
For the soup:
- In a large pot or dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Add sausage (removing from casing, if in links) and break into bite-sized pieces. Brown for about 5 minutes. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions soften and begin to turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Cook for about a minute, then add tomato paste, and stir well to incorporate. Cook until tomato paste begins to brown, about 3 or 4 minutes.
- Add tomatoes, dried bay leaves, and chicken stock, and stir well to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered, about 30 minutes. Add uncooked pasta directly to soup and cook until al dente, about a minute less than package directions (remember that pasta will continue to cook a bit in the soup after you remove it from heat). Don’t let the soup continue to simmer or cook, or the pasta will become overcooked. Stir in fresh basil, and adjust salt and pepper, to taste.
For the cheesy payload:
In a bowl, combine ricotta, Parmesan, salt, and pepper. Mix well.
Scoop a dollop (a big, rounded soup spoonful) of the cheesy payload into an empty soup bowl. Sprinkle with a bit of shredded mozzarella. Ladle hot soup over ricotta mixture, and finish with another light sprinkle of mozzarella, as well as some more chopped basil, to garnish. Serve immediately.