A simple garlic broth with tortellini, tomatoes, and fresh garden herbs, and a lifelong friend, Amy

March 17th, 2010

Garlic herb soup with tomato and tortellini

There is something very special about the friends, and the foods, of our youth. We tend to carry them close to our hearts, and it is often these tastes, and these friends, that in old age if someone were to ask, “What meal do you wish to be your last?” or, “What friend do you want near?” that would prompt thoughts of cherished dishes from childhood, and of the dear friends kept close from our youth. During a time when we were more naive, more vulnerable, and exploring our identities without the expectations of adultishness holding us back, someone saw something raw, something beautiful, something lovable about us – and chose us. A friend. An Amy.

The story of this soup, of Amy, and of my interests in cooking and art intersect in a beautiful weave that I am happy not to unravel. Although I was acquaintances with Amy early in college, it was not until she lived a few dorm rooms down the hall during our junior year that I truly got to know her. I can still remember her room – light, with a pale soft sea green comforter and white billowy pillows, everything perfectly in its place, it breathed beauty and effortlessness, so unlike my own room – always struggling to keep its clothes in its drawers, and with papers overflowing binders and tucked every-which-way into book sleeves.

Garden rosemaryGarden rosemary

Everything about Amy breathes artistry. Art comprises the essence of her being, and always has, from what I can tell. Wherever Amy goes, whatever Amy does, she creates beauty. She is purposeful, methodical, deliberate, inspiring. Very few people have influenced me like Amy. She is a photographer, a designer and painter, a video editor, a world traveler, a uniquely creative cook, and most importantly, and often undeservingly on my part, a lifelong friend.

And it is Amy who first made me this soup about a decade ago when we became roommates the summer after that junior year in college, and I still make it several times a year. I’d say this is a lifelong soup.

Garlic smashed

The base of the soup is a simple garlic broth created by crushing and sautéing a whole head of garlic in a bit of olive oil, just until the garlic has infused the oil and is no longer raw, but not yet brown, and then vegetable or chicken stock is added, along with a few sprigs of fresh herbs such as thyme, sage, and a handful of fresh parsley.

We keep an herb garden not far from our kitchen out the back door, where I tend to use whatever fresh herbs are thriving and available. In this case, rosemary, oregano, and sage.


From here, the soup can take many forms. You can add a wide variation of vegetables, greens, beans, pastas, chicken or tofu, or even a bit of saffron, but the addition of tomatoes and tortellini is how Amy introduced it to me, and thus it has become my way.

At its heart, it is a variation of the classic Italian dish “Tortellini en brodo” or “tortellini in broth” and it is one of the most satisfying meals I can imagine. Chewy al dente tortellini filled with little wedges of soft cheese are nestled next to a savory broth, richly flavored from the infusion of garlic, ripe tomatoes, and fresh Italian herbs. Finished with sprinklings of fresh parsley, gratings of a nice aged parmesan reggiano, and a hot out of the oven tear of crusty bread, and at this moment I cannot find room beside my adoration for this soup to think of a meal I love more.

Garden OreganoGarden sageGarden SageGarden oregano

At an influential time in my youth, it was Amy who first introduced me to such things as making homemade pasta, cooking with and growing my own fresh herbs, using lavender as a spice, and unique twists on traditional favorites such as sweet potato quesadillas and mango salsa.

It was Amy who sparked my interest in photography, it was Amy who made up crazy silly songs with my brother and me and then animated my stuffed bear to sing along, and it was Amy who was there when my father died at the end of that summer in college; it was Amy who was still there six months later, not afraid to stand in the shadow of death or look me in the eye, and hold me as I cried… And it is still Amy who is there. Thank you, friend.

Beautiful Amy Amy in field of flowers. Photo courtesy of Amy’s sister in law, Cara Lavarone.

Simple garlic broth with tortellini, tomatoes, and garden herbs
adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home (Tomato garlic soup with tortellini)

8 cups vegetable or chicken stock
3 cups diced tomatoes or 5 medium fresh tomatoes (about 4 cups chopped)
12 ounces fresh cheese filled tortellini
3 tablespoons minced fresh garlic (1 large or 2 small heads)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 sprig fresh sage
1 sprig fresh thyme
several sprigs fresh parsley and more, chopped, for serving
sea or kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste
freshly grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese

In a covered pot, bring the stock to a boil. In a soup pot on low heat, gently saute the garlic in the olive oil until golden, taking care not to let it brown. Add the boiling stock. Stir in the paprika. Tie the sage, thyme, and parsley into a little bundle with string, and add the “bouquet” to the pot (you may also chop the herbs and add straight into the soup – this is what I do). Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, add tomatoes, and simmer for an additional 10 to 15 minutes. Adjust for salt and pepper to taste.

In a separate pot, cook tortellini until al dente, usually 4-5 minutes (check package directions) for fresh tortellini. When ready to serve, place tortellini in individual bowls and ladle the soup over them. Serve topped with grated cheese and chopped parsley.

Note: You may omit the tomatoes and/or the tortellini and add other pasta, vegetables, greens, potatoes, peas, chicken – so many possibilities! Also, this easily serves 6-8 people, so I often freeze just some of the broth to pull out and cook with a new package of fresh tortellini for an easy and delicious last minute meal.

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Posted in Main Courses - Vegetarian | 16 Comments »

16 Responses to “A simple garlic broth with tortellini, tomatoes, and fresh garden herbs, and a lifelong friend, Amy”

  1. Amy says:

    I don’t really have words to respond to such a sweet tribute. I’m so honored. Thank you. This soup is such a comfort food, and it’s special to me to have introduced you to one of your favorite meals. (Thanks to my mom for introducing it to me!) After reading this post, I want both tortellini soup and a visit to Virginia to see you! This post is lovely, and so meaningful – thank you.

    • laura says:

      Amy, it is my turn to come to you, I believe. I could certainly use some sunny CA right now – I miss you, friend!

  2. Blair says:

    Laura, this is a lovely story and a lovely recipe! the great thing about what you shared is its a great base which can take so many forms! thank you for sharing this and your story with us.

  3. Christine says:

    Such a nice story! The soup sounds delicious. I think I will make it this weekend, probably adding some chicken since my husband thinks meat is required in every meal.

  4. Mom says:

    Laura, this is a beautiful tribute to Amy; I love her, too.

    p.s. If you say the soup is good, it’s good, so we’ll have it this Sunday.

  5. I love the story! The photography is beautiful and thanks for the recipe.

  6. Fay Rowe says:

    I know Amy, and I love your description of her. And concur!
    I’ve also had her soup, written up in my recipe file as “Amy’s Tortellini Soup”, first made for me by my daughter who also is blessed and happy to claim friendship with Amy.

    • laura says:

      Fay – I had the recipe written on a similar card as well for years until I realized it came from a cookbook Amy had helped me pick out years before! The Moosewood Restaurant cookbooks are great, by the way.

  7. laura says:

    Thank you all for so many kind words! Amy is one of a kind, and this soup is truly delicious. I hope everyone gets a chance to try it. ~laura

  8. grace says:

    aw, what a sweet homage to your chum! she sounds like she must be a wonderful person and a true friend.
    meanwhile, this soup just screams COMFORT. down-home, delicious, and doable–my kind of food! :)

  9. Barbara says:

    A lovely story of your friendship; I would hope all of us would be fortunate enough to have a friend like Amy.
    Your garlic broth looks and sounds delicious. And your photos are mouth-watering. You’ve done such a good job with them…you took photos I would never have thought of taking, like the simple cloves of garlic.

  10. Julia says:

    Beautiful photos! Love your site…

  11. Amy says:

    Laura – you are welcome to come! We’ve been having a succession of practically perfect days – sunny and warm, but not too hot.
    Carolyn – thank you! I hope you and John enjoyed the soup.
    Fay – thank you! How special that the soup has come to bear my name in your recipe book, and I am blessed and happy to count you, Glenn, and Gillian among my friends, too.
    To everyone else – thank you for all your kind words! I’m going to keep this blog post and your comments in my back pocket and pull it out when I need some encouragement.

  12. Joy says:

    You are lucky to have found Amy, what a wonderful friend to have. I really enjoyed reading this post — I always tell people everyone you meet in your life serves a purpose, even people you would never expect. It’s the beauty of relationships because ultimately they always teach you something about yourself youve never discovered before. Love this post, love the pictures love this recipe.

    • laura says:

      Joy – yes, I do believe we can learn from everyone we meet, and it is wonderful when we find friends and people who inspire us to be better. Thank you!


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