Zuppa Toscana

Zuppa Tuscana with bacon and Parmesan crisp

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Background

Anyone who has gone to Olive Garden has probably tried or at least tasted this soup. It is creamy and heartily filled with sausage, potatoes and kale. I absolutely love this soup! I have loved this soup since before my gluten free days when I could go to Olive Garden and dip their wonderful bread sticks in this soup and eat all the salad I wanted. These days I eat this soup on it’s own or with a quick Caesar salad. A Caesar salad is particularly nice and easy to pair along with this because you already have Parmesan cheese and garlic in this soups to add to the salad. I also like to add in some bacon in my Ceasar salads since being gluten free I usually omit the croutons. Also, if you are here in Colorado you will know that out shelves are soon to have romaine lettuce back in stock and we just had out first (slight) snowfall. There is no better time for soup and salad for your family Sunday dinner this week. Now, if you are a Paleo dieter, this soup is delicious with: sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes, a can of coconut cream instead of the heavy cream and of course no white beans.

Now it has been awhile since I have been to Olive Garden but I don’t remember if they put white beans in their Zuppa Toscana. Honestly, I don’t remember when I started putting them in my soup either. I was on a modified Paleo diet until my pregnancy so it must have been when I was pregnant that I made this recipe change. I was in desperate need of protein and I craved this soup so basically started making it every week starting in my second trimester. I’m sure in my desperation for protein that I was adding beans and tofu to almost everything thus creating my version of this masterpiece! If you don’t want the beans you can omit them but the liquid and the beans themselves really add a thickness and velvety goodness to this soup that you will only otherwise get if you add flour or cornstarch. So, my decision to use beans in my soup will not change very soon.

Process

This soup is all about layering of the flavors. This starts with the bacon or pancetta. This ingredient isn’t even actually in the soup. I place it on top of the soup for a delicious garnish but it adds a smokey flavor the soup really needs. So cook off your bacon and than add your sausage to the pan without dumping any of the grease.

For the sausage, I use a spicy Italian sausage. If you don’t like spice you can always get a mild Italian sausage. There is red pepper flakes in this recipe as well so keep that in mind when you pick out your sausage. I prefer crumbles of sausage rather than big pieces so I also take it out of the casing (if I can’t find it just ground). However, an Italian kielbasas would work here as well in bite size cubes. After your sausage is done browning (it doesn’t even need to be cooked completely through because it’ll finishing cooking with the soup) you can take it out and set it aside.

Next comes the onions and garlic. Normally all my recipes say to chop or mince the garlic. However, there are two soups, this one and minestrone, that I like to thinly slice my garlic. There is no real reason for this except presentation. I think the garlic adds to the presentation of the soup and it’s nice to have the onions and garlic the same size as the white beans. If you have this little gadget it makes both slicing and dicing incredibly easy! No need for fancy knife skills here! So once, you have your onions and garlic cut however you prefer, brown them in the yummy oil you have rendered out of the bacon and sausage.

Next it’s time to add in some salt and pepper and your red pepper flakes. In my recipe, you will see that it states the amount of flakes to taste. This depends on you and your family’s preference as well as the spicy level of your sausage. I use whatever Italian sausage is on sale during the week so I get a range of mild to spicy. If I’m using a mild sausage I’ll use 1-2 tablespoons of red pepper flakes but if I have a spicy sausage and my parents are eating with me (which they usually are) I would only use 1/4 a tablespoon. So stir in your pepper flakes and let cook another minute or so. Next I add in my potatoes and give them a good stir so that they get coated in that delicious oil. I usually allow them to cook for another five minutes without stirring to allow them to get a little brown crust on them and start to soften up a bit.

Next add in your can of beans. White beans, cannelloni beans, butter beans, great northern beans and even garbanzo beans would be delicious in here. Any light colored beans will do the trick! I normally rinse my beans before adding them recipes but in this case I want that starchy liquid to help thicken my soup so just pour the can right on in. Add in the vegetable stock and the sausage you set aside. Cover your pot and let simmer for about an hour or at least until the potatoes are soft and the sausage has cooked through.

 

Now for the yummy and healthy part of this soup oh the kale! I know many people, my family included, have a love hate relationship with this leafy green but it really is wonderful in a soup. It’s able to hold up to the liquid but is able to soften just enough to take away the raw vegetable flavor. Also, I know two bunches seems like a lot but this will cook down quite a bit! So take your kale off the ribs and give it a rough chop. I add in all the kale together, put the lid back on and wait a few minuets to let it wilt down before stirring it into the soup. The kale only takes 5-10 minutes to cook after it’s stirred into the soup.

Next comes the reason this soup is so delicious! The cream! Any type of cream works in this recipe. My house always has heavy whipping cream because I use it as a coffee creamer, to make homemade whipped cream and to cook with so that is what I use. However, you can get away with half-and-half, coconut milk, or even whole milk (although you may want to thicken it with cornstarch). Like I said, anything really will work as long as it’s not a flavored creamer! I’m sure you could even just stir in some powdered milk! But if you want the thick creamy goodness I would advocate for a heavy cream. You only live once right? Also, if you don’t want to use the full cup you can cut it down to whatever you like, just don’t complain if you don’t have a rich, velvety, creamy soup!

Zuppa Tuscana with bacon and Parmesan crisp

So once, you stir in your cream bring it back up to a simmer. Now it’s hot and ready to serve topped with the rendered bacon and some Parmesan cheese! I love to make a Cesar salad with this soup or serve it with a gluten free roll (or a regular roll for all you non-allergic peeps out there!). Hopefully you love this recipe and it tackles your Olive Garden craving without having to leave your house!

Please feel free to leave questions and comments below! Check back weekly for more family Sunday dinner recipes!

Until than stay joyful mamas!!!!!

KARA

Recipe

Zuppa Tuscana

GF

Prep Time: 30 mins

Cook Time: 1 1/2 hour

Ingredients

1 medium onion chopped

4 slices bacon or pancetta diced

Spicy Italian sausage taken out of casing or crumbled

2 bunches kale

3-4 cloves garlic sliced

1 can cannelloni beans

Red pepper flakes to taste (1/4-1 tbsp)

3-4 potatoes sliced thinly

1 1/2 quart vegetable broth

1 cup heavy cream

Parmesan cheese for garnish

Process

Brown Bacon and set aside. If the sausage has a casing take it out. Brown the sausage and set aside. Cook onions and garlic 2-3 mins until they start to get translucent. Add in the red pepper flakes and cook another min. Add in potatoes and cook for 5 mins without stirring to start them softening and get a brown crust on one side. Then add in the cannelloni beans, vegetable stock and the browned sausage. Bring soups to a boil than cover and simmer for one hour or at least until the potatoes are tender. Add in kale and simmering another 10 mins. Add in 1 cup heavy cream and bring back to a shimmer and serve topped with bacon and Parmesan cheese.

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