Sunday, January 9, 2011

Zuppa Toscana (A Healthier Version)

Zuppa Toscana:
A healthier version of The Olive Garden's soup


3/4 pounds Italian turkey sausage, casings removed (I used Honeysuckle brand Sweet Italian Turkey Sausage. It comes in a 1.25 pound package containing five sausages... each sausage is roughly 1/4 pound... I used 3 links.  For a heartier soup, use all all 1.25 pounds in the package)
1 medium sized yellow onion, diced
6 cups low-fat, reduced sodium chicken broth [I used one 32 ounce carton plus 1 can (14.5 ouncees) of Swanson's brand broth)
1/4 teaspoon (or less) of dried crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 head of cauliflower (stalk removed, cut/broken into small bite sized pieces)
1/2 to 1 pound kale, finely chopped (thicker ribs and stems removed)
3/4 to 1 cup grated carrot (I used 4 small carrots)
1 can (12 ounces) fat free evaporated milk


In a large soup pot, combine the sausage and onion.  Break up the sausage with a wooden spoon and cook, sitrring frequently, until no pink remains in the sausage and the onions are becoming translucent.  You could start the pan with a little olive oil but, to me, the sausage had enough fat that the addition of oil wasn't necessary.

Add the chicken broth, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, salt, pepper and cauliflower.  Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer, cover with a lid, and cook for approximately 15 minutes (the cauliflower will start getting tender).

Add the kale and grated carrot; season with additional salt and pepper if desired.  Stir the kale and carrot into the soup.  You might wish to increase the heat a bit to help the kale wilt into the soup.  I have not used kale in many recipes so I am surprised that it seems to take quite a long time to wilt kale (unlike spinach which seems to wilt the second you add it to hot liquid).  I let my soup simmer until the kale got tender. It took about 30 to 40 minutes but you can decide this for yourself. There also may be different varieties of kale (my kale was very it had ruffles... how's that for a description?). Once the kale reached the desired tenderness, I stirred in the evaporated milk and let the soup simmer for a few additional minutes.

The story behind this soup...

One of my favorite things to do is get an inspiration for a recipe and then research it and think about it for awhile.  Over the New Year's weekend, the checker at the grocery store mentioned that, for New Year's Eve, her daughter had made Zuppa Toscana just like they serve at The Olive Garden Restaurant and it was great.  I remembered reading this soup description at The Olive Garden:  Spicy sausage, russet potatoes and cavolo greens in a creamy broth. The checker at the market said her daughter had made it with kale and it was great!

I Googled "Zuppa Toscana" on the Internet and found several different versions.  All had many things in common... Italian sausage, onions, bacon, potatoes, garlic, broth, and heavy cream.  Some versions used kale; others used spinach.  Some used pork sausage; others used turkey sausage.  I thought about how I could make the recipe more healthful. Leave out the bacon, use turkey sausage instead of pork, puree some cannelini (white kidney beans) with some chicken broth in place of the cream, replace the cream with fat free evaporated milk, and so on.  I kept on reading and thinking and searching.  Just before I made out my grocery list yesterday, I read one version of the recipe where someone used cauliflower in place of the potatoes.  Brilliant!  So I made up this pot of soup yesterday and I love it!  I've never used fat free evaporated milk before but I think I'll be using it more in the future to give soups a creamy texture.  I've been finding that products which are reduced fat or fat free often have other foreign sounding additives which must be incorporated to alter the flavor or texture or whatever. I liked that the ingredients in the evaporated milk were rather straight forward.

I should say I've never had a bowl of Zuppa Toscana at The Olive Garden, but I really like this soup. I hope you give it a try. It does make a big pot of soup; I plan to freeze several portions.

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