This Lemony Chicken Tortellini Soup Is a Fresh Take on Comfort Food

Fresh parsley, lemon juice, and cheesy tortellini brighten up a classic chicken noodle soup
April 16, 2020 Updated: April 16, 2020

My husband George and I are finding ourselves in the kitchen together more than ever. We are sharing all of the household duties more than ever—especially when it comes to watching our 15-month-old son, Mattis—including cooking.

I am typically responsible for all of the action in the kitchen (because I love it!), but having to cook three meals a day for all three of us, in addition to a full schedule of freelance recipe development, started to weigh on me pretty heavily around our second week of self-isolation. Which, at this point, was three weeks ago. 

So George, eager to help, stepped in to give me some time to get my own work done by taking over a meal every couple of days. 

Back to Comfort Foods

Tasked with mealtime decisions, George keeps returning to incredibly classic, comforting recipes: think lots of simple pastas, roasted chicken, and turkey sandwiches for lunch. One night, I was both surprised and delighted when he asked me if we had all of the ingredients to make a pot of chicken noodle soup

We were completely out of pasta noodles (how did I let that happen?!), but after digging through the freezer, we found a package of fresh cheese tortellini. Our CSA delivery last week landed us both celery and carrots, and we always have lots of onions on hand, so we had all of the basic chicken noodle soup veggies ready to go. We also had a bag full of spinach that needed to be used up, so we decided to stir that into the soup, too. 

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This recipe uses fresh cheese tortellini in place of classic noodles, but use any pasta you’d like! (Elena Verba/Shutterstock)

Our lemon tree is cranking out lemons right now, so I welcomed the opportunity to incorporate some fresh lemon. For all its comforting qualities, chicken noodle soup can sometimes be a bit dull. A squeeze of lemon juice and dusting of zest brightens up the broth, bringing a breath of springtime freshness to an otherwise classic soup. 

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Gone lemon-picking. (Caroline Chambers)

Breaking It Down

If the thought of dicing all of the vegetables and aromatics gives you a headache (George, for one, loathes chopping), just give them all a rough chop, then toss them in the food processor. Pulse 10 to 15 times, or until all of the vegetables are a little smaller than a dime. 

They then get a quick sauté, just to get their flavors going, before the stock and chicken are added to the pot. I use whole chicken breasts (or thighs), because I love pulled chicken, instead of cubed, in my soups. After the breast poaches in the soup, which has the added benefit of making the broth even more flavorful, I pull it out, shred it up, and return it to the pot. 

The tortellini cooks right along with the chicken and vegetables—no need to use a separate pot. 

At the very end, I stir in fresh lemon juice, spinach, and parsley to really bring the soup to life. A final garnish of more parsley mixed with lemon zest brings extra flavor and springtime appeal. 

This recipe made enough for five servings at my house. Sometimes we serve it on its own, sometimes alongside a simple grilled cheese. However you decide to serve it, I hope you enjoy it happily, safely, and healthily with your loved ones. 

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Veggies and herbs, ready to go. (Caroline Chambers)

Lemon and Spinach Chicken Tortellini Soup

Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 medium carrots, scrubbed and diced if on the larger side, or cut into coins if smaller than 3/4-inch wide
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 4 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs (see Note), cut into 3 pieces
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 10 ounces fresh or dried cheese tortellini
  • 3 cups spinach, roughly chopped or torn
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 2 lemons
  • Fresh parmesan shavings, for garnish 

Warm olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Sauté carrots, onion, and celery until softened, 3–5 minutes. Stir in garlic and thyme and cook for 30 more seconds.

Stir in chicken broth, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper and bring to a boil over high heat. Add chicken and bay leaf, reduce heat to medium, and cover. Cook for 5 minutes, then stir in the tortellini, cover, and continue cooking. 

Cook for 5 more minutes, then transfer the chicken to a bowl and use two forks to shred. Return chicken to the pot. If you’re using fresh tortellini, the soup should be ready to eat. If you used dried, you may need to continue cooking for another couple of minutes.

Stir spinach and 1/4 cup parsley into the soup. Combine the remaining 1/4 cup parsley with the zest of 1 of the lemons and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cut both lemons in half and squeeze the juice into the soup. Taste and add more salt or lemon juice if desired.

Serve soup with parsley-lemon zest mixture and fresh parmesan shavings.

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A final garnish of fresh parsley and lemon zest brings brightness and springtime appeal. (Caroline Chambers)

Recipe Notes

You can also use chicken thighs, though they will take a little longer to cook. Poach them in the broth for 15 minutes, then add the tortellini and cook them together for 5 more minutes, for a total chicken cook time of 20 minutes. Then remove the chicken, shred, and return to the pot.

Use any broth or stock you have. Bouillon also works.

Tortellini is not required, though highly recommended! Use any type of noodle you have, adjusting the cooking time as needed.

In place of spinach, roughly chopped kale, beet greens, Swiss chard, or collard greens would all work perfectly.

Caroline Chambers is a recipe developer, food writer, and author of “Just Married: A Cookbook for Newlyweds.” She currently lives in Carmel Valley, Calif., with her husband, George, and son, Mattis. Follow her on Instagram for cooking tips and snippets from her life in Northern Calif. @carochambers