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.

Ingredients:

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)

Directions:

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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27 Responses to “my gratitude, and a recipe for key lime cheesecake”

  1. Paula — March 22, 2013 @ 2:34 pm

    Hugs and prayers continue for your entire family. Beautiful cheesecake. Enjoy that upcoming and much needed vacation.

  2. Michele — March 22, 2013 @ 3:34 pm

    You guys take care of yourselves. I’ll be thinking of you and your family. And that cheesecake!

  3. DessertForTwo — March 22, 2013 @ 3:46 pm

    We’re here for you anytime, MJ!

    Your Mom’s blog post hit me in the gut. I’m thinking of her & praying her lots. I hope she has easy days ahead and can heal.

    PS Is your maiden name George? Mine too!

  4. All that Gisters — March 22, 2013 @ 3:52 pm

    I really hope things get better for you, your Mum and Dad, I really hope you enjoy your holiday tpp because I think you deserve it. I absolutely love key lime cheesecake and I haven’t had it it so long, it brings back good memories from when I was tiny.
    from Emily xxx

  5. Gail — March 22, 2013 @ 4:02 pm

    I haven’t even read your mother’s blog yet, and I’m a weepy mess.

    Sending you big hugs. You know we’re all here for you.

    xo

  6. MJ such a sad, beautiful, hopeful, and articulate post. You are amazing. Sending love and hugs to you all, especially your mum and dad XO As Gail says, we’re all here if you need us.

  7. Kathryn — March 22, 2013 @ 4:24 pm

    Thinking of you all, have a wonderful vacation xxx

  8. Cookin Canuck — March 22, 2013 @ 4:30 pm

    You have popped into my mind multiple times since I read the post about your dad’s transition to the nursing home. You are in all of our thoughts.

    Key lime in any form has always been a favorite of mine, and this cheesecake looks like a “must try”.

  9. Michelle Ledesma — March 22, 2013 @ 7:17 pm

    Continuing to keep you, your folks, and family in my thoughts and prayers. May seem odd, but I feel the need to thank you. Thank you for sharing your stories. It’s comforting to connect with someone who clearly loves her dad and mom, but is moving through a difficult period in life’s transitions. I relate. Many can, I’m sure. Know you, too, are not alone. We’re all out here walking along side, holding you up in our hearts.
    Do get some r & r on your vacation.
    Oh, and that cheesecake looks divine.
    Hugs, Mac

  10. Kiran @ KiranTarun.com — March 23, 2013 @ 1:39 am

    Your mom’s post definitely resonated with a lot of tough decisions we had to do in our lives as well. Our thoughts and prayers goes out to her, your dad and the whole family during this trying times. xoxo

    That’s a beautiful cheesecake.

  11. cherie — March 23, 2013 @ 11:41 am

    I’m fairly new to your blog and did not read about the initial surgery until today – what a shock all this must have been for you and your mother.

    Prayers continue for you all – hugs too – I agree you both need time to recover from stress before moving forward with other decisions. I wish there were a way to make this easier – it sounds like you’re all doing the very best you can.

  12. jill lucas — March 24, 2013 @ 5:18 pm

    There will be so many good memories mingled with these difficult ones. Try to remember the times he offered his steady hand talked about your babies with knowledge and pride. I learned after my dad’s death that, the day before his heart attack, he was pressing a new snapshot of his toddler grandson – our son, now 22 – into the hands of friends at the post office. I took a lot of comfort in that and choose to remember it over details that have become less vivid with time.

  13. Natasha — March 24, 2013 @ 9:34 pm

    Time like these are never easy. I will certainly keep you and your family in my thoughts. And I’m sure cheesecake helps, as I know baking for me certainly does. All the best.

  14. Cheryl Arkison — March 25, 2013 @ 10:38 am

    I love that layer of curd!
    And I’m thrilled that things feel calmer, better.

  15. Nutmeg Nanny — March 25, 2013 @ 10:05 pm

    This is such a difficult and heartbreaking time, sending positive thoughts your way. There is nothing like a nice treat to ease things though, this cheesecake looks delicious 🙂

  16. you and your family is in my prayers Merry. I have realized how great it is to be surrounded by blogger community during tough times like this and I am glad baking is your comfort. Take Care.

  17. SMITH BITES — March 28, 2013 @ 7:51 am

    sending much love and prayers your way MJ and i’m grateful for this community who surrounds you with love, am grateful you have this space to share your deepest secrets and fears, am grateful to call you friend (((hugs)))

  18. Donna at NothingChocolate — April 1, 2013 @ 7:34 pm

    Oh my goodness!!! Your images are spectacular! My eyes “taste” the creamy tart-ness of this cake! So wonderful!
    And where did you find that nice, moderately high cake stand?

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — April 8th, 2013 @ 4:42 pm

      The cake stand came from Crate & Barrel a few years ago. I love it and keep meaning to buy another!

  19. Kammie @ Sensual Appeal — April 3, 2013 @ 8:14 pm

    Wow , I love that there’s even lime curd in there! Amazing recipe! Pinned.

  20. Lucy Henderly — April 8, 2013 @ 3:08 pm

    I made this on saturday night for some friends birthday get together on Sunday night!!!! it was a hit! maybe one of the best cheesecakes i’ve ever had!

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — April 8th, 2013 @ 4:37 pm

      Thanks for letting me know, Lucy. I’m so glad that everyone loved it!

  21. Lauren @ Dallas Duo Bakes — April 10, 2013 @ 9:45 pm

    Prayers for you and your family! As for your key lime cheesecake…it looks divine. I am a huge key lime fan, and know I will like this recipe.

  22. Aggie — April 11, 2013 @ 12:07 pm

    Ok, I’m officially in tears. I love key lime everything. I want a slice of this cheesecake. Love you friend. xoxo

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