Monday, September 19, 2016

Revisiting a Favorite: Tuscan Style Soup and Italian Bread

I think we all have special dates that mark turning points in our lives. Our anniversaries. Our children's birthdays. The day we moved into our new house. The day we said our last goodbye to a loved one.

September 13 is one of those dates for me. And years ago, on September 13, 1979, I marked that important anniversary by starting my whirlwind European Grand Tour.

Okay, it wasn't so grand. But it was life-changing. And every September 13 since then, I've relived that trip. In this post from a few years ago, I shared a few memories from those two months in Europe. Enjoy!

Tuscan Style Soup and Italian Bread

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

This was me back in the '70s. I always had
my guitar with me back then.

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).

I wish I had pictures to share with you, but mine are all on slides. So go to your search engine and type in "Emmental Switzerland images." Or just click on the link I've provided. You'll love what you see!

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!


We had this soup on Friday night. Partly to celebrate our lovely autumn weather, but mostly because I was feeling nostalgic. Those September 13 memories were as strong as if four years had passed by instead of nearly forty.

Do you have a special date you remember every year? Share it with us if you like!

In other news...are you ready for it?....Mattie's Pledge releases tomorrow!!!!

It will be available at all of the major online retailers - Barnes&Noble, Amazon, - and at your local book store.

Do me a favor? If you don't see it at your local store, would you ask them to order it? Thanks bunches!

You can also request it at your library. I know those librarians love to get suggestions from patrons - they want to buy the books that people will read!

Jan Drexler loves her family, her home, cooking and just about anything made by hand. But she loves her Lord most of all.

Stop by Jan's website to learn more about her books:


  1. MMMM< if we hadn't just made stew today, I think I'd make this for our Monday dinner.

    I was living in France when the Berlin Wall fell and I remember how shocked everyone was. It was a very powerful moment in time and I'm so glad I was old enough to remember it! I was only 15 but it made a big impression on me, mostly because of how the adults reacted.

    Have you watched Bridge of Spies with Tom Hanks? Incredible movie about when the wall went up.

    Wonderful memories, Jan. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

    P.S. In our town there's a man who transfers pictures from slides and old negatives to digital Cds. Maybe you should look into that? Not just for sharing but so you have doubles of your travels? I'm sure your grand kids will want to see them some day.

    1. It was such a shock when the Berlin Wall fell! It was built before I was born, so it was a given. It would always be there, right? But it was so symbolic, and that whole system crumbled so quickly...

      And I've looked into transferring the slides to digital. But I have so many that I need to sort through them and decide which ones to do. :)

  2. What exquisite images of Switzerland. I can't imagine leaving a place that beautiful...wretched persecution!

    I get nostalgic every fall. Love these season and for me it signifies new beginnings the way spring does for most other folk. I reflect on all the back to school bustle, first as a mom sending her kid off, then as a student myself and finally as someone working in a school. Since I didn't go back to work this fall it was kind of bittersweet but my daughter did go back to university and it was fun to go back to school shopping at the office supply store. We both have this deep rooted need for sticky notes and gel pens come autumn time. LOL

    1. It's markers for me this year. We were in an office supply store on Saturday and I paused next to a display of markers. My husband tried to say, "You have enough markers," but my answer was something like, "you can never have enough markers!" :)

      And Switzerland was beautiful. Just beautiful.

  3. Loved the trip down memory lane with your travels. Yep. Brings back many memories of the times back then. smile

    Your soup sounds divine. Since we are getting fall days here, I think it sounds like I better try it.

    1. It is a great recipe, but you need to include a good loaf of bread! It rounds out the experience. :)

  4. I'm not sure why I haven't tried this, Jan, but I definitely must. Just as soon as the temps fall into the 80s. Summer is so overrated.

    Congrats on the new release!

    1. "fall into the 80s"

      We're at that point where the mid-80s is hot weather now. Warm days, cool nights...I love fall!

  5. Jan, this soup looks so good! I'll have to try it once our weather turns a bit. It's still terribly hot here.

    I loved the photo of you in the 70's! :)

    1. The 70's. I am so glad that decade is over... I look at some of the retro fashions and think, "I lived through that. You can't talk me into dressing like that again!"

      But what can I say?

      And I'm ready for another batch of this soup this week :)

  6. We should have smell-a-vision here; I'll bet that soup smells fantastic. I'll have to try it. I'm a soup-a-holic...could truly live on it and am always throwing together a quick batch. (Last night's was a potato-bacon chowder and there's leftovers for today's lunch.)

    I haven't travelled much -- my international travelling is only as far as the northern U.S.A. -- but my hubby once had an opportunity to accompany a tour to the Holy Land, and he brought back lots of photos, all on slides. I discovered there is a setting on my scanner for digitizing them which really simplifies my viewing, sorting, printing process.

    1. Oooh, I'll have to look at my scanner settings! That would be sweet!

      And I haven't traveled internationally since that trip. I always intended to return to Europe after I got married. I really wanted to share what I had seen with my husband and visit the places I had to pass by on my first trip. But you know, you get married and life really ramps up on you.

      So we content ourselves with seeing the sights around here...which are pretty astounding. :)