Thursday, September 22, 2011

Zuppa Toscana, only better.

As poor college students, one of our favorite things to do was hit the endless soup, salad and breadsticks lunch at the Olive Garden.  Olive Garden was goooood eatin'.  The "endlessness" of the offer was also appealing for someone who primarily lived off of ramen noodles and whatever else you could make in an illegal plastic hot pot.

After college, the reemerging kitchen made it possible for my counterparts and I to reevaluate our food priorities.  What's in Olive Garden food?  The calories in a full Olive Garden meal probably far, far, FAR exceed what a normal human should have in one day. After all, most big chain restaurants aren't that much different than most fast food restaurants.

I can't say that I miss the Olive Garden much.  There is one dish that I couldn't quite let go, however... Zuppa Toscana.  A delicious, probably caloric-ly out of control, cream based soup with potatoes, Italian sausage and (my favorite thing EVER...) kale.  Turns out, this stuff is super-crazy easy to make.  It's possible that I could have pulled this off in my illegal plastic hot pot.  Actually, it's so easy, I feel like the Olive Garden ripped me off.  Bonus: if you make it at home it's not super bad for you, either.

In the interest of ending the Olive Garden's tyranny, I share this recipe with you.  Just remember who gave you this when you make it through a whole meal without THIS happening, even once.  Unless your family really hates you.

Zuppa Toscana

1 lb Uncooked Italian Sausage (hot or mild, depending on your preference)*
1 medium diced Onion
3 cloves Garlic, chopped fine
8 cups Chicken Stock (That's 2 of those boxes, if you're buying pre-made)
1 teaspoon dried Oregano
Pinch of Red Chili Flakes (Optional. Also, it is an option to add much more than a pinch)
1 bunch Kale
4 large Red Potatoes, diced
1/4-1/2 cup Heavy Cream or Half and Half
Olive Oil
Parmesan Cheese for garnish

1. In a large soup kettle, saute the onion and garlic in 2 tablespoons olive oil on medium-high heat until translucent.
2. If your sausage is in a casing, remove it and discard.  Pull the sausages apart into bite-sized pieces.  Add the sausage to the pan and brown.
3.  When the sausage is brown on all sides but not cooked through, add the chicken stock, oregano, red pepper and salt and black pepper to taste.
4. Bring the mixture to a quick boil on high heat, then lower to a simmer.
5. Add the potatoes and cover. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender, about 9 minutes (depending on the size of your dice).
6. Wash and remove stems from the kale.  Chop the kale into 1 inch pieces and add to the soup.  Cook for another 2 minutes.
7. Remove the soup from the heat.  Stir in cream or half and half.
8. Ladle into bowls. Garnish with Parmesan, or annoy your friends and family by asking them to say "When," just like a real Olive Garden server.  Complain when they don't tip.

*I've got a non-pork kinda person in the house, so I buy chicken sausage - just make sure it's uncooked.  You can get bulk Italian chicken sausage in bulk sans casing at some super markets, including Whole Foods.

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