Monday, February 18, 2013

Tuscan Style Soup and Italian Bread

Many, many years ago I spent a couple months traveling in Europe.

Yup. It was the '70s. Think backpack, Youth Hostel Card, Eurail Pass, and a three-in-one edition of The Lord of the Rings to pass the time on the trains.

I learned a lot of things.

Things like how a woman traveling alone is much safer north of Florence than south...and don't even think about going too far into France, and definitely NOT behind the Iron Curtain (yes, it was still in existence back then - I said it was many years ago).

And like how the pictures just don't do justice to the Alps, or castles, or the Rhine, or the Danube....

And when I visited our ancestral home in Sumiswald, Switzerland, I learned just how desperate my ancestors must have been to leave such an absolutely beautiful place. (Read up on the Anabaptist persecution in Switzerland during the Reformation here to find out why they left).

But another less important (but much more tasty) discovery was that not all Italian food is tomato sauce and pasta! Who'd a thunk?

I stayed in a Youth Hostel in the Tuscany region that served a chicken dish that was divine, with a side of pasta (and no tomato sauce - just butter, garlic and cheese), and bread. It was a revelation for me. Suddenly I loved Italian food!

(This was a WHOLE lot better than Chef-boy-ar-dee!)

One day, long after I returned home, I went to Olive Garden for the first time, and I fell in love with their Zuppa Toscana.

Imagine my delight when I found a copy-cat recipe that claimed it was just as good as Olive Garden's! But let me tell you, when I made a few modifications, the soup turned out to be much better than the restaurant version. I don't even order it there anymore....

Tuscan Style Soup


1 pound spicy Italian sausage
1/2 pound bacon - chopped
1 quart water
1 quart chicken broth
2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 garlic cloves - crushed
1 medium onion - finely chopped
2 cups kale, torn into dime-sized pieces
1 cup heavy whipping cream OR 1 12 oz. can evaporated milk
salt and pepper to taste

First, brown the sausage and bacon. I like to use the Italian sausage you find tucked away with the bratwurst in the grocer's meat cooler, but you can use your favorite. If you use links, like I do, be sure to remove the outer casing.

I use my kitchen scissors to cut the bacon into pieces before cooking it - saves so much time.

And here's how the meat looks after cooking it to crispy goodness!

When you drain the meat, reserve a few tablespoons of drippings to use later - you'll love why.

While the meat is cooking, start cooking the potatoes in a large pot with the water and chicken broth.

And after the meat is done, cook your onion and garlic in a tablespoon of your reserved drippings (not all of it - just one tablespoon!) until the onion is transparent, and then add it to the potatoes.

The soup is almost done!

After the onions/garlic are done, add the rest of your reserved drippings (think of it as flavorful oil) to the frying pan, and saute your kale pieces. You want to stir those puppies enough to coat them with the oily drippings, and then turn the heat way down, stick a lid on the pan, and let the kale steam for about five minutes.

Once the kale is steamy and tender, add the meat and kale to the pot.

Add the cream or evaporated milk, and then stir it until it's heated through. Taste it and add salt and pepper as needed.

Serve it with a loaf or two of Italian bread, (and a bit of Ruthy's bread dip) and you'll be transported to the old country!

 Oh! And in case you're wondering? Spring is just around the corner - this is where I spent Saturday afternoon:

And because all my photos of Europe are slides, the pictures at the beginning of the post are borrowed from:


  1. Yum. I am making homemade chicken broth today. What a perfect base for your soup. And you may even get me to put kale in instead of spinach!

    I am so jealous of your new home base!

    Peace, Julie

    1. Yes, Julie, your chicken broth would make a great starter for this!

      And our new home? We go up in those Hills and we're speechless. We stand there like tourists, turn 360 degrees, and say, "Can you believe we live here?"

      That same afternoon we drove through Custer State Park. It was just before sunset, so all the animals were out. We saw more bison, pronghorn antelope and mule deer than we could count.

      No elk, though. The populations are down because of mountain lion overpopulation, and the remaining herds are pretty shy.

    2. Julie, give the kale a try! It's my new favorite food. :) (although I still use a lot of spinach)

  2. Olive Garden...sniffle. We used to have one here but they closed. Can't figure out why. It was always packed. I think the only ones left in Canada are on the east coast. Sigh...

    I'm making chowder and lentil soup today to have ahead for the next week or so. No sausages or bacon in sight. :-)

    1. Mmmm, I love making soup ahead of time. Just heat it up and eat! SO much better than canned.

      And I was thinking of ways you could make this soup without the meat and still get that rich smoky, spicy flavor.... I don't know anything about tofu, but could you marinate some to give it the strong flavor the sausage brings to the soup? Or maybe leave out the meat altogether and make this into a potato/kale chowder?

      Too bad you have no Olive Gardens! We live without Panera and Chick fil A out here in the west, so I know your pain :(

    2. Kav, I was just talking about your interview with some Seekers. What US time zone are you on? We wanted to pray during that time!

    3. Jan, I don't know what I'd do without waffle fries and Chick-fil-a sandwiches!

    4. Potato kale soup sounds perfect...and so Irish. Perfect for St. Patrick's Day. I think you just settled my menu planing weeks in advance. Potato Kale soup and Irish soda bread. Yum. And a flan for dessert.

      Missy -- that's so sweet and much appreciated. My interview is on February 26 at 11:00 a.m. and I'm EST.

    5. What? No Panera? No Chick Fil A? No Olive Garden? Life is sometimes just so not fair.

    6. But when I think of what we DO have...

      the Alpine Inn (

      the Firehouse Brewing Company(

      Tally's Silver Spoon (

      I can ALMOST live without the others!

  3. Jan, this recipe sounds amazing!! I'll have to make it soon while the weather is still cold. :)

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Oh Missy, that's so sad. Your cold weather is going away soon?

      We'll have soup weather until June, at least :)

    2. My flowers are blooming! Daffodils all over town. Today is in the mid 50's and gorgeous. Of course, we've had a blizzard in March before. So we'll see! :)

  4. Interesting recipe, Jan, but not at all w hat I expected. We have a chain here called Hale and Hearty Soup. They have a Tuscan White Bean soup that is to die for! I thought that was what you were making when I saw the title.

    Kav, the Tuscan White Bean would work for you because it's vegetable broth, no meat, but lots of yumminess. I found a recipe on the Mayo Clinic site that's pretty close.

    1. Mary, that white bean stew sounds fantastic. I think it's the rosemary that grabbed me...

      And I'm printing out the recipe!

    2. Yes, Jan. I've become a huge fan of rosemary.

  5. Oh. My. Goodness. This looks divine, Jan. Both the scenery and the soup. I can't wait to try it. The soup, that is.

    I've always wanted to go to Tuscany. Lived in Germany for a while. Never made it that far south. Heck, we rarely made it anywhere back then. Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

    1. Back in your military life, right? From what people have told me, it sounds so glamorous until the reality of no budget and multiple children in diapers hits :)

      But I was there so long ago, I know everything is changed by now. That was back in 1979 - 34 years after WWII ended...and it's been nearly 34 years since I was there. That really puts it in perspective, doesn't it?

    2. man, now I feel really old


      almost as old as...well, we won't mention her name, but she hasn't dropped by the cafe yet today...

    3. I'll come back so you don't have to feel old alone. :)

      I was chatting with my daughter about this while we walked the dog last night. She spent 3 months traveling on her own in Ireland and England last fall (stopping off at farms along the way to work). She said no one treated it as unusual at all for her to be a young woman traveling alone. As her mother, I would have preferred she had a companion, but she survived.