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....
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!)
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
1/2 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
I use my kitchen scissors to cut the bacon into pieces before cooking it - saves so much time.
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!
And because all my photos of Europe are slides, the pictures at the beginning of the post are borrowed from: