Saturday, March 7, 2009

Soup for a party: Zuppa Toscana

I love soup. Though I've been known to make a huge pot of soup in the middle of July (in my sweltering, non-air-conditioned kitchen), winter is soup's time to shine. Soup has countless variations, is simple to prepare, tasty, nourishing and a comfort on cold nights.

So when my friend Devon said that she was having a "Soup Kitchen" party, I got excited. What a perfect opportunity to make my absolute favorite soup, Zuppa Toscana! While I wish I could say I discovered it at some out of the way trattoria in Italy, my journey to this recipe began at Olive Garden. They serve a version of this soup that is decently good, and it is one of their 'signature' dishes.

Mine is definitely better. I have tweaked and fiddled with this recipe so much it's pretty well divorced from where I found the original here. I try to make a big pot at least once per winter.

This is the kind of soup that needs crusty bread served with it to soak up the broth at the bottom of your bowl. This is also the kind of soup that makes people go, "Ooooh! Mmmmmm. Ahhhh..."

I love that reaction.

Perfect on very chilly days, it would have been great last weekend.
Y'know, when it snowed six inches?
It's 70 degrees outside right now.
There's a saying: "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes."
I find this to be more true in Asheville than anywhere else I've lived, visited or dreamed of going.
Something about the mountains...

This soup has a kick, from the addition of crushed red pepper flakes. If you don't care for the heat, you can omit them, but don't skimp on the sage!

Zuppa Toscana


3/4 - 1 lb. Italian sausage (here I will make a rare endorsement: Hickory Nut Gap Farm. Their meats are the best I've tasted.)
2 large or 5 medium potatoes, large dice
1 large sweet onion, large dice
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 pieces bacon (again: Hickory Nut Gap, especially after reading this piece on Smithfield)
1 small bunch kale, rinsed and torn into small pieces
1 can Great Northern (cannellini) beans, drained and rinsed
1 quart chicken broth
1 quart water
a few Tablespoons of white wine for deglazing
1/4-1/2 cup half and half
freshly ground black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, fresh or dried sage, Italian seasoning


(Note: Taste the broth as you move through the steps and start adding spices. Remember that the half and half and puree that you add at the end will dilute your spices. And go easy on the salt!)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Roll sausage into bite-sized balls. Place on baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes or until browned. Drain on paper towels, sprinkle with dried sage and set aside.

Steam kale and set aside.

Add potatoes to a pot of cold water and cook until done (bring to boil, plus 5-7 minutes). Drain.

In a large pot (I used a 6-quart and had plenty of room), cook bacon on medium heat. Remove bacon and add a tablespoon of olive oil and the onions. Saute onions until translucent, then add garlic and cook for one more minute. Briefly turn the heat up to medium high and add the white wine, then scrape up the delicious browned bacon and onion bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Turn the heat back down to medium.

Mince the bacon into bacon bits. Set aside.

In a blender, put 1/2 cup of the chicken broth, half the onion/garlic mixture, half the potatoes and half the beans. Pulse to a puree. Set aside.

Back at the stove, add remaining potatoes and beans to onion/garlic mixture. Pour in chicken broth and water. Add red pepper flakes, more sage and Italian seasoning. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Add cooked sausage balls, bacon bits, salt/pepper. Simmer 10 more minutes.

Reduce to low heat. Add kale, puree and half and half.

Heat through and serve.

This soup keeps well for a few days and reheats easily.


  1. I have to say I've always enjoyed when you made it!

  2. i just went a soup adventure last night! nothing beats soup in winter :) this one sounds tasty but I abhor kale...don't ask me why: it's a long, heated animosity betwixt kale and myself. So i may omit the kale.

    /end ramble.

  3. @Cherry You abhor kale?? That's terribly sad, as it is such a versatile, happy green! I love it steamed with some toasted sesame oil and soy sauce, or thrown into soups, or just as a hearty side. You could probably do baby spinach as an easy substitute.

  4. @lgk: ahh, now baby spinach I can get behind. I must have been in a horrible kale accident as a child ;)