cooking again

tortellini with italian sausage, fennel, and mushrooms | the merry gourmet

I cooked dinner for my family last night, and it feels like a major accomplishment. Other than holiday cooking and the rare episode of baking with the kids, I’ve spent more time watching my husband cook over these past several months than I’ve actually done myself. I used to call myself a weekend cook, but really, I’m not even that anymore.

I love cooking, but I’ve been in such a rut lately. I have stacks of food magazines overflowing in my living room, mostly just gathering dust and serving as unstable perches for sleeping cats. I’ve always been a devoted reader of Saveur, Food and Wine, and Fine Cooking, but when I cleaned out a stack of magazines to donate to the waiting room at work, I found unread issues from months ago. It’s embarrassing.

But yesterday, I took a copy of Saveur – the May France issue – to my kids’ tennis lessons. We’re heading to London and Paris this summer, so this issue caught my attention more than any others have lately. I split my attention between watching my kids thwack the tennis ball across the court and the glossy pages filled with recipes from Provence, Lyon, and Bordeaux. I bookmarked some pages – one of them highlighting a bakery in the Marais neighborhood we’re renting an apartment in later this summer – and imagined how wonderful it must be to be the food writer writing those essays.

I want to cook something tonight, I thought.

That, friends, is a thought I haven’t had in a while. A long while.

I opened the Epicurious app on my iPhone and scrolled through various recipes before landing on one that I thought would satisfy all four of us (my three picky eaters and me), for our Saturday evening dinner – a recipe for tortellini with Italian sausage, fennel, and mushrooms.

I served the pasta in my favorite pasta bowl, the one I splurged on from Heath Ceramics, with a side of garlic bread and freshly grated Parmesan (hand grated by Oliver – he was very proud). The pasta was fantastic, and despite the kids picking out most of the mushrooms and spinach, they both admitted they couldn’t really taste the vegetables. For dessert, we watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I think we’re the last people in the United States to have watched it.

It felt so good to be cooking again, and I really want the feeling to last. Prompted by a friend’s Instagram post earlier this week, I’ve decided to give the meal delivery services Blue Apron and Plated a try. I’m optimistic that if the recipes and ingredients are delivered right to my door, I’ll get back into the practice of cooking again, and I’ll remember what I love about it. If you’ve ever tried one of these services, I’d love to know what you thought, especially what you loved or didn’t love about it. For now, I’m hopeful.

Yield: Serves 6 to 8.

Tortellini with Italian Sausage, Fennel, and Mushrooms

You'll need two pots for this dish - a large nonstick skillet for making the sauce and a large stock pot for boiling the pasta. The recipe calls for 8 ounces of mushrooms and 5 ounces of baby spinach, but I used about half of each after compromising with my children. Next time I make this, though, there will be no compromises.

Serving garlic bread along side is recommended. It makes a great sponge to mop up any extra sauce in your bowl.


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large fennel bulb, trimmed, halved through core, thinly sliced lengthwise (about 3 cups), fronds chopped and reserved
1 pound Italian sausages, casings removed, sausage coarsely crumbled
1 8-ounce package sliced baby bella mushrooms
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, coarsely crushed
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup (or more) low-salt chicken broth
1 16-ounce package fresh tortellini with cheese filling
1 5-ounce package fresh baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese plus additional (for serving)


Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add sliced fennel, sausage, and mushrooms; sauté until sausage is browned and cooked through and fennel is tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Add garlic and fennel seeds, and stir 1 minute. Stir in cream, then add 1 cup chicken broth; boil until liquid is reduced and very slightly thickened, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook tortellini in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain tortellini and return the pasta to the same pot.

Add sausage mixture to the tortellini. Toss over medium heat until blended. Add spinach; toss gently until spinach wilts. Stir in 1/2 cup cheese; add more broth (1/4 cup at a time) if the sauce seems too thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with chopped fennel fronds. Serve, with additional Parmesan cheese to pass around.

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4 Responses to “cooking again”

  1. 1
    Paula — April 24, 2016 @ 6:04 pm

    The pasta looks wonderful and how satisfying it must have been having made it from scratch!  I hope you enjoy having the fresh food and recipe ideas delivered to you and being back in the kitchen cooking.  Your upcoming vacation sounds exciting.

    • 1.1
      Merry-Jennifer — April 25, 2016 @ 6:39 pm

      Thanks, Paula. I’ve heard good things about both of those services, so I’m optimistic. I think it will be nice to have the decision about what to have for dinner already made. Plus, not having to run to the grocery mid-week is a major bonus.

  2. 2
    Brian — April 25, 2016 @ 10:48 pm

    Welcome back to the kitchen, MJ. I hope it was a good experience for you… The dish looks fantastic!

    I’ve done Blue Apron once and was really impressed by the service. There are so many out there now… Excited to hear how it goes for you. 

  3. 3

    We’ve missed you 🙂 I bet your upcoming trip will provide you with lots of inspiration to get back in the kitchen – if that’s what you want! I’m excited to follow along your travels!

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