Friday, September 25, 2015

Sausage, Kale and Potato Soup (Copycat Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana)

Last Year's Post: Squash Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter Sauce
Two Years Ago:  Pad Thai

My mother and I are different in many ways, not the least of which is restaurant preferences.  I tend to favor small locally-owned places, and she likes upscale casual chain restaurants.  I've tried a couple of times do the alternating thing (this time your choice, next time my choice) with less than spectacular results.  After one particularly disastrous visit to a local Italian eatery where she kept looking at everything and everyone with deep suspicion, she finally remarked to me "Why would anyone go to any other Italian restaurant when everyone knows that Olive Garden is the best?"  And there you have it.  Since I love my mother and like to see her often, I spend a fair amount of time at Olive Garden for lunch and thus have discovered their Zuppa Toscana soup made with Italian sausage, potatoes and kale.

I fully understand the irony in the fact that I have a less than enthusiastic view of Olive Garden but am not above copycatting their recipe.  In my (weak) defense, there are a lot of copycat recipes out there for this soup.  To my dismay, I discovered the purported "real" recipe contains cream so in my (continued weak) defense, I decided to try to create a healthy version that was just as good.  And the combination of sausage, kale and potato is a classic Italian soup not exclusive to Olive Garden.  Have I rationalized enough yet?

There are three things that I changed:  I eliminated the optional bacon because I haven't noticed bacon in the restaurant version anyway, I substituted hot Italian turkey sausage for hot Italian pork sausage, and I substituted 2% milk for the cream.  The last substitution might seem the most drastic but I have a secret to make it seem just as rich - you puree a few of the cooked potato pieces and stir them back in the pot.  It's a great trick for making cream soups taste rich without cream because the starch in the potatoes thickens the soup, and it worked very well here.  The original restaurant soup is not thick like a cream soup but has a slight richness, which is almost perfectly duplicated here.

You may notice the recipe calls for browning the sausage and onion in a separate skillet, then placing them in the soup pot.  The reason is that the sausage gives off juice and fat, will create a film on the top of the finished soup.  If you don't care about it you can make everything in the same pot.  The whole house smelled wonderful while this was cooking.


At the point (above) where everything was simmering but before pureeing any potatoes or adding the kale and milk the soup looked great and smelled even better. Next time I may just eliminate the puree step and the milk, using more chicken stock in place of the water and milk and serve it just like this.  Can you imagine how pretty it would be after adding the bright green kale?  In the next pictures I added the potato puree, then the kale and milk.

Although the soup requires a fair amount of chopping, it was fun to make and even better to eat.  It would be absolutely perfect for a chilly, rainy fall day or a snowy winter one.  It makes a big pot of soup and it's healthy with all that kale.  What more could you want? Serve with grated parmesan and crusty bread for a complete and comforting meal.

Update one week later:  when we had this for the second time, The Lawyer volunteered that this may be the best soup he's ever had.

Sausage, Kale and Potato Soup
Serves 6-8

16-20 ounces spicy turkey Italian sausage 
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
32 ounces chicken broth
2 ½ cups water
1 ¼ cups of 2% milk
4 cups kale (about one bunch Tuscan kale), stemmed and cut into bite-sized ribbons

If the sausage is in the form of links, remove from casings.  Heat a large skillet over medium heat, then add half of the olive oil.  Add the sausage and sauté until cooked through; breaking it up into crumbles with a wooden spoon as it cooks.  Remove from the skillet and add to a large soup pot.  In the same skillet, add the remaining olive oil and the onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Remove and add to the soup pot. 

Scrub the potatoes well but do not peel.  Slice each potato lengthwise in half and then crosswise into ¼” pieces.  Add the potatoes, garlic, chicken broth and water to the soup pot and bring to a brisk simmer, then turn down and simmer for 30 minutes until the potatoes are tender. 

Scoop 1-2 ladles of potatoes and broth out of the soup pot, trying not to get any sausage (put any sausage pieces back in the pot).  Put the potatoes and broth in a blender or food processor and process until smooth.  (If you use a blender, be sure to remove the center knob from the lid and cover with a towel to prevent a hot liquid blow-up.)  Pour the puree back into the soup pot and stir.

Add the milk and kale and simmer 15 minutes more, until the kale is tender. 

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