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Fall is the season of comfort food--warm, hearty fare to keep out the chill and help prepare you for Winter hibernation. This soup fits the bill and is pretty healthy too (Not counting the sausage!). The original recipe was in the December, 2005 issue of Cuisine At Home magazine, but I've modified it a bit to suit myself (feel free to do the same). The recipe can be made to suit both gluten-free and lactose-free diets.

1 or 2 Tbs olive oil
1 lb Sweet Italian Sausage
Salt & Pepper, to taste
Dried Italian seasoning, to taste
1 large sweet onion (usually Maui or Vidalia), chopped
2 medium carrots, shredded
2 cups mushrooms, sliced (I prefer Cremini)
2 Tbs garlic, finely minced (I usually just use the jarred stuff)
1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce
1 can (14.5 oz) petite-cut tomatoes
2 cans (14.5 oz) low-sodium chicken broth *
1 cup mini-farfalle or campanelle pasta (optional: leave out if you want gluten-free)
2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
Optional: diced mozzarella and/or Parmesan cheese

This recipe makes almost a gallon of soup, so you’ll need to use a Dutch oven or a very large saucepan. Brown the sausage in the olive oil over medium-high heat, seasoning with salt, pepper and dried Italian seasoning. Add the onions and carrots and continue to sauté for 3 or 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms and garlic and sauté for another 3 or 4 minutes.

Add all the canned ingredients and bring to a boil. Add pasta (if using), lower heat and simmer for about 10 minutes (or amount of time required to cook pasta almost al dente, per package directions). Stir in spinach and cook until wilted, about 1 or 2 minutes.

The original recipe says to ladle the soup over 1/4 cup of cubed mozzarella to give the soup that “gooey cheese element” of lasagna and further garnishes the top with grated Parmesan. I find stringy cheese in my soup unpleasant, so I leave it out—this is also a good idea for those who are lactose-intolerant. This is not a soup to be served with crushed crackers—I usually serve it with toasted slices of a crusty sourdough bread for dunking, or if I don’t have any of that I top it with croutons.

*Note: leftovers are great, but if you have them and need to reheat the soup you should add some additional chicken broth, as the soup seems to get thicker when refrigerated.

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