Okay, all you fellow Olive Garden fans, here it is! Zuppa Toscana, brought to you by our famous in-house Italian chef.
Okay, so he's short, making a cheesy face, and doesn't have a drop of Italian blood in him. But he is a good helper in the kitchen. He loves to stir and gets very upset if I try to take his spoon away from him. "Stay out of my cucina, mamma mia!" (And don't worry, I watch him like a hawk when he's anywhere near a hot surface).
There are lots of different versions of copycat recipes for this soup online, and mine is yet another—sort of a conglomeration of several. I can't guarantee that it is exactly like Olive Garden's original recipe, but it is close and definitely delicious.
Although many of the online recipes call for the more authentic Italian pork sausage in a casing, I prefer bulk sausage (which is more like ground beef instead of long links, if you don't know what I'm talking about). And from what I've seen of the few times I've had this soup at the restaurant, they use the bulk kind as well. I assume that Jimmy Dean Italian would work really well, but the first time I made this soup last fall, they didn't have any at the store. I ended up buying the hot kind instead, and we love it! The extra spice is great for our family, but if you don't necessarily want your sinuses fully cleared out, stick with the milder stuff. :)
Also, I think OG uses pieces of crumbled bacon in theirs, which I have not tried yet. I'm sure it would be wonderful; you can't really go wrong with bacon, right?
Here is the basic recipe to get you started, but feel free to mess around with it. That's one thing I love about cooking, you can kind of make it up as you go and still get delightful results!
1 lb. sausage
3 c. chicken broth
1/4 c. heavy cream
1/4 t. salt
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 t. red pepper (flakes or ground)
1 large Russet potato
2-3 large pieces of kale
Cook sausage, breaking up into bite-size pieces, and drain off the grease. Meanwhile, combine broth, cream, salt, garlic, and red pepper in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add sausage. Slice the potato (do not peel) and then quarter the slices and add them to the pot. Chop the kale (should be about 2 cups chopped) and add it as well. Reduce heat, and let the soup simmer for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked. Buón appetito!
One note: do not be afraid of the kale! I had never tried it before making this recipe, and I kept cringing as I added this strange lettuce-y looking plant, hoping it wouldn't taste too weird. The truth is, it has a very mild flavor and a texture that is barely noticeable. It does add color to the soup and is a tasty way to get your greens! So I repeat, do not be afraid of the kale!
I hope you enjoy the soup! Let me know how it turns out for you.