I know there are plenty of Olive Garden fans out there, my dad being one of them. I have tried and tweaked and come up with my own clone version of O.G.'s Zuppa Toscana. It's good. And not just because I said so. Many other people have agreed. A lllooooonnnnggg time ago, I took a pot to a Mary Kay dinner and everyone loved it. Yes, I was a Mary Kay lady. But that is its own story so back to the soup.
The highlight of my soup is using homemade sausage. Justin's family has a sausage recipe and I've had the honor of making it. It is a traditional Italian sausage in the Northern Italian style i.e. no fennel. I've seen similar recipes listed on recipe sites, but they are usually considered French. I doubt anyone is ambitious enough to want to make homemade sausage, so I will not bother posting it. I will say making it is very labor-intensive. It took most of a day to grind, mix, and stuff the casings, then another couple days in the fridge for the sausages to dry cure. (But hey if you want it, let me know. More power and stuff like that.)
Feel free to substitute whatever sausage you like, such as 12 breakfast links, or 1 lb. bulk sausage, or a small tube of Jimmy Dean. I often use sage or hot flavored Jimmy Dean when we don't have homemade sausage on hand.
4 links Costa sausage, casing removed, or 1 lb. of any sausage you like
2 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 medium-sized yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 cups chicken broth
4 large kale leaves, stems removed and chopped
1/4 cup minced fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
4 shakes red pepper flakes (optional if you don't like the heat)
1 dash ground thyme
1 dash ground sage
1 cup cream or half-and-half
Fresh romano or parmigiano cheese
1. Brown the sausage in a 6 Qt. stockpot with the onion. Cook until meat is brown and onion is translucent. Drain off excess fat. Add butter, bacon, and garlic and cook another minute.
2. Add chicken broth and potatoes. Bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer and let cook 15-30 minutes. (If your potato pieces are small, go for 15, if large go for 30 minutes).
3. Add parsley, kale, thyme, sage, and red pepper. Cook until kale has wilted, about 10 minutes.
4. Add cream last. Bring back to a simmer, then serve. If you continue boiling once the cream has been added, it will eventually separate and the soup will look curdled. It will taste fine, but the appearance isn't so great. Garnish with fresh grated cheese. Serve with French bread.
Substituting other ingredients is fine. Make this soup your own! Just keep in mind, as with any variations, it will not be identical to Olive Garden, but I'm sure it will be tasty.
No fresh bacon on hand? Use 1/4 cup Hormel bacon bits or crumbled precooked bacon.
No fresh garlic? Use a heaping teaspoon of minced garlic from a jar.
No canned chicken stock? Use 4 cups water and 2 teaspoons chicken bouillon granules or (2 cubes).
No cream on hand? Use milk.
Don't feel like kale? Cool, use spinach.