Wednesday, March 02, 2016


This soup might look familiar. It’s apparently based on Olive Garden’s “Zuppa Toscana,”* and it’s quite the Internet sensation. I can anecdotally report that it seems to be approaching the cult status of the Mrs. Fields/Neiman Marcus cookie, and perhaps someday its origins will be as shrouded in mystery. I first had it years ago, when my visiting friend L improvised a soup based on one her aunt had cooked for her. It was tasty, so when I saw this version at Budget Bytes recently, I decided to give it a shot. Funnily enough, that exact week, my mom was describing a soup recipe she’d gotten from my aunt that she was planning to try that week…and lo and behold, it was just another variation on the very same ur-soup.

All this popularity isn’t unmerited. Sausage, potatoes, and kale are best friends (see this similar combo from my own soup archives), and adding cream only sweetens the deal. Apparently, the original soup contains bacon, although many of its imitators do not; the slightly lightened recipe I tried adds smoked paprika as a stand-in, dials down the cream to half-and-half, reduces the sausage and swaps in some white beans for added protein and creaminess. It’s delicious and I wouldn’t change a thing. The only slight tweak I made was adding the half-and-half near the end of the cooking process so it didn’t curdle, as some commenters suggested and most other versions do. I went ahead and used hot Italian pork sausage for max flavor, but you can substitute a chicken variety if you prefer.

*Insert obligatory foodie snideness about the Olive Garden here, along with the requisite disclaimer that I’ve only eaten there twice in my life, during my hungry/cash-strapped/silly college days. And you know what? It was fine.

½ pound Italian sausage (hot or mild)
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15-ounce) can Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
2 cups half-and-half
3 medium red potatoes (1½ pounds), quartered lengthwise and then cut into thin slices (about ¼ inch thick)
1 bunch (½ pound) kale, stemmed and chopped
1 pinch red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  1. Squeeze the sausage out of its casing into a large pot. Sauté over medium heat, breaking it up into small pieces as it cooks. (If you’re using chicken sausage, you may need to add a little olive oil to keep it from sticking.)
  2. Once the sausage is mostly browned, add the onion and garlic to the pot and sauté until the onions are softened.
  3. Add the beans, smoked paprika, chicken broth, water, and salt to taste (my chicken broth had no salt, so I added 1 teaspoon kosher salt; use less if you’re using a commercial broth that contains sodium). Place a lid on the pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
  4. Add the potatoes and kale, stirring until the kale wilts. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for at least 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.
  5. Reduce heat to low and add the half-and-half, heating until warmed but not boiling. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste.
Serves: 6-8
Time: 45 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.

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