Zuppa Toscana… it’s one of those recipes that EVERY food blogger has made. I see it on Pinterest at least once per day. At least. I try to avoid over-hyped recipes like this but…
I had a friend staying at my house last week and he so graciously offered to cook dinner one night. He chose Zuppa Toscana. “Sure, why not?” I thought, “Let’s see what all the hubbub is about.” He is a former Olive Garden employee and if he could eat it every day for months on end and still want to cook it by choice, then there’s gotta be something to it, right? Well, to my surprise, the soup actually lived up to its enormous hype. We each ate two bowls for dinner, then ate it again for breakfast and lunch the next two days. Yep. It’s that good.
If you’ve never been to Olive Garden or had Zuppa Toscana anywhere else, I’d describe it like a creamy potato soup loaded with flavorful Italian sausage, kale, and bacon. The original version uses heavy cream, bacon, and a whole pound of sausage, but I decided to try to lighten it up a bit. I used half and half instead of heavy cream (according to thekitchn.com it has one third the fat), subbed half the sausage for white beans, used smoked paprika for smokiness instead of bacon, and then loaded up on potatoes and kale. The result? Still totally creamy and chock full flavor, plus a hefty dose of vegetables. I’m probably going to eat nothing but this soup for the next four days straight (it has kale, so it’s okay, right?).
Are you ready for this?
- ½ lb. Italian Sausage (hot or mild) $1.46
- 1 yellow onion $0.32
- 2 cloves garlic $0.16
- 1 (15 oz.) can Great Northern beans $1.00
- ½ tsp smoked paprika $0.05
- 3 cups chicken broth* $0.36
- 1 cup water $0.00
- 2 cups half and half $1.69
- 3 medium red potatoes (1.5-1.75 lbs.) $1.67
- 1 bunch (8 oz.) kale, chopped $1.50
- pinch red pepper flakes (optional) $0.02
- freshly cracked black pepper (optional) $0.05
- Squeeze the sausage out of its casing into a large pot. Sauté over medium heat, breaking it up into small pieces as it cooks. The sausage should contain enough fat to keep it from sticking, if not add a touch of olive oil. It's okay if a small amount browns on the bottom of the pot.
- While the sausage is cooking, dice the onion and mince the garlic. Add them to the pot and sauté until the onions are softened. The moisture from the onions should help dissolve any browned bits of sausage off the bottom of the pot.
- Drain and rinse the can of beans. Add the beans, smoked paprika, chicken broth, one cup water, and half and half to the pot. Place a lid on the pot and let it come up to a simmer over medium heat.
- While the pot is heating, cut each potato into quarters lengthwise, then slice across into thin slices. Add the potatoes to the pot along with the pre-chopped kale. The kale will fill the pot when it's first added, but the heat from the liquid will wilt it within a few minutes. Stir it occasionally to help the wilting process.
- Let the pot simmer over medium heat for about 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Season with red pepper flakes and freshly cracked black pepper if desired.
Step by Step Photos
I use Italian sausage a lot to flavor dishes, so I took advantage of a sale on this value pack. I only used 1/2 lb. for this soup, but packaged the rest up for the freezer (in two link portions, since that’s usually how much I use per recipe).
Squeeze two links (1/2 lb.) of Italian sausage out of its casing and into a large pot. Sauté the sausage over medium heat, breaking it into chunks as it cooks. I didn’t use any extra oil because sausage tends to be pretty fatty. It’s okay if a little sticks to the bottom of the pot because it will dissolve off in the next step. If you’re having a lot of trouble with it sticking to the bottom of the pot, add a splash of olive oil.
While the sausage is browning, dice one onion and mince two cloves of garlic. Add them to the pot and continue to sauté until the onions are soft. The moisture from the onion should help dissolve any browned bits off the bottom of the pot.
Drain and rinse one 15oz. can of Great Northern beans, then add them to the pot with 1/2 tsp of smoked paprika. The smoked paprika will give that smoky hint that the bacon would have supplied. Tricky, right?
Next add 3 cups of chicken broth, 1 cup water, and 2 cups (one pint) of half and half. If you’re not from the U.S., “half and half” is like a lighter version of light cream. Read about it here. Put a lid on the pot and let it come to a simmer over medium heat.
While the pot is heating up, wash and slice three red potatoes (about 1.5 to 1.75 lbs.). I first cut the potatoes into quarters lengthwise, then sliced them thinly across. Slicing them thinly helps them cook faster, plus makes a great texture in the soup. Add the potatoes to the pot.
Instead of buying a regular bunch of kale, I bought this bag of pre-chopped kale (it’s actually less expensive than regular bunches at my local store). This one pound bag is roughly equivalent to two bunches and I used half of it (or about one bunch). If you buy a regular bunch of kale, you’ll need to wash it, remove the stems, and chop the leaves.
Add the kale to the pot and it will likely fill it up to the top. Let the heat from the liquid begin to wilt the kale. Give it a stir occasionally to help it contact the hot soup and wilt.
After a few minutes it will have wilted down into the soup nicely. Let the soup simmer over medium heat for about 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.
I like my soup spicy (and had used mild Italian sausage), so I seasoned with a pinch of red pepper flakes. A little freshly cracked black pepper is also nice. Depending on what type of broth you use, you may need to add a little salt (I did not add any).
The potatoes and beans help thicken the broth up nicely, without having to use heavy cream.
Absolutely deserving of all the internet hype. SO. GOOD.
Big thanks to Brandon for opening my eyes to the Zuppa Toscana! YUM!