To Jaclyn Gelb, soup is love. “You make soup for someone, and you give them love,” she says, simply.
She spreads her love around liberally at my son’s elementary school, because every few weeks, she makes and serves a huge pot of soup to 350 kids there. She’s one of a group of “mom soup cooks” who have taken it upon themselves to make sure the children get something warm, yummy and home cooked each Thursday. The rest of us marvel at how many veggies and other nutritional goodies will go down the hatch on soup day.
She almost didn’t sign on for soup duty; making soup for 300-400 people seemed so intimidating, so daunting. How would one do it, actually? Finally, last year, she surrendered to the call, and now she can’t truly remember what her internal hurdles were. Imagining the challenge was so much harder than actually just making the soup!
And now, in her second year as a mom soup cook, she has taken a practical approach to the matter. “What a great skill to have! Not that I’ll ever have to whip up soup for 100 adults, but sometime, somewhere, it might come in handy!” she says with a laugh.
The last time she made her signature soup, it was to uproarious acclaim. There was so much praise for her brothy tortellini concoction, she was nearly embarrassed. She has made it at school before and gotten good feedback, but the last time she made it, she was bowled over by the positive response.
“It was ridiculous how much people loved this soup. The response was almost overwhelming! The whole cafeteria was crowded, and I heard in the hallway that the soup was good…people were telling each other to go get the soup. I had to go back in between lunch periods to make more broth. It was crazy!”
She developed the recipe because of her initial intimidation. “I wanted something tasty, healthy and it had to be easy to make.” Her daughter Nikki, 10, a 4th grader, was her guinea pig, tasting and commenting, rejecting when necessary (nope, tomatoes were out!). “I purposely picked corn and peas because they are sweet veggies and kids like them. I was trying to get as much nutrition in as possible – how can I max out the benefit and the taste at the same time?”
She was wildly successful, because I first heard about the soup while eavesdropping on my son and his friends, who were talking enthusiastically after school about the soup they were served at lunchtime. Soup? Boys aged 7-10 talking about how fantastic the soup was?
As I listened, I knew I had to have the recipe.
A few discreet calls, and I determined the cook was Jaclyn. She laughed when told that her soup was the subject of favorable gossip. “For reasons I can’t explain, this simple little soup makes everyone happy ♥ ,” she wrote in an e-mail to me. “It’s shockingly easy!”
Jaclyn lives with husband Geoffrey and daughter Nikki in a pyramid-shaped house beyond the top of Las Flores Canyon in Malibu. The home, perfectly situated to enhance the appreciation of the land, was originally built by astral photographers, but it suits the spiritual Gelb family to a T.
It all circles back around to the love. “The last time I made soup at school, I did this prayer beforehand…I said, ‘The soup will be wonderful.’ And it was! People were so happy with it, I was rolling on the ground from all the praise. It was the universe saying, ‘Oh, you want some love? Here’s your love!’”
Crazy love for a soup sounds good to me! A bowl of this would be perfect for a nippy January day, and after the excesses of the holiday season, a just-right light touch for lunch or dinner.
Enjoy, and Happy New Year!
Jaclyn Gelb’s Tortellini Soup
Like many good cooks, Jaclyn eyeballs some of the amounts. For a casual soup like this, you can’t go wrong estimating – a handful of frozen peas, a handful of frozen corn, a big pinch of Parmesan…you get the idea. Use vegetable broth to make this vegetarian.
For each serving:
- 8 ounces chicken broth or stock* (see note below)
- 1 cup cooked tortellini** (see note below)
- 1/2 cup frozen peas
- 1/2 cup frozen corn
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (to taste)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- Generous sprinkle shaved or grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
Put all ingredients except basil and Parmesan in a pot and heat to boiling. Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking. Ladle into bowls, topped with the chopped basil and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
Jaclyn says, “This seriously takes about 10 minutes to make (for your family; making it at school takes longer simply because of the volume).”
*Jaclyn favors the convenient, tasty Savory Choice liquid broth concentrate, which comes in a box containing little packets to which you add hot water. It is available at Whole Foods and other grocery stores.
**If using fresh/uncooked OR dried/uncooked tortellini, cook it in a separate pot of gently boiling water until done, and then add the cooked tortellini to hot soup. If using frozen pre-cooked tortellini, heat broth to a gentle boil, then add frozen tortellini. It will thaw and heat in about 3 minutes.
What to serve with it at home:
- A nice bread
- A salad