Thursday, November 13, 2008

Zuppa Toscana

Nothing beats cold weather like a steaming bowl of soup. There is a pot boiling on our stove of some soup or another at least once or twice a week during the grey months of the Pacific Northwest. A perennial favorite soup (before we started excluding starchy foods) was Zuppa Toscana from Olive Garden. We've attempted to replicate it over the years, and came up with this version, which in our opinion captures all our favorite aspects of the original. With cauliflower standing in for potatoes in this version, the carbohydrates are low enough to be appropriate even for people in the earlier phases of carb-restrictive diets.

A comfort food during cold winter months, this soup is hearty and heart-warming. Italian sausage and bacon (or pancetta even, if you want to get fancy!) in a creamy spicy broth, this soup is a delicious way to introduce your family (or even yourself) to the nutritional powerhouse that is kale. Kale is a seasonal vegetable that I've wasn't introduced to until about two years ago, and since then I've been making an effort to include it in my family's diet. This is a 'gateway' recipe, for people who want to start cooking with kale but haven't enjoyed it in the past. This soup manages to tempt even the steadfast kale-protester! My veggie-suspicious son has named this his "Favorite Meal." I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Gwuinifer's LC "Zuppa Toscana"
  • 6 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped (or 1/2 c. pancetta, chopped)
  • 1 lb. Italian sausage (or four sausages, casings removed)
  • 1 head cauliflower, sliced 1/4" thick and broken into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 bunch kale, tough stems removed, torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 large sweet onion, coarsely chopped or diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped coarsely
  • 1/2 c. heavy cream
  • 2 T. Chicken bullion paste
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • Red pepper flakes, to taste
  • Grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, for serving
In a large skillet, fry bacon pieces till chewy/crisped but not crunchy. Remove from drippings with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Set aside.

Add chopped onions and garlic to the bacon drippings, and cook over medium-high till onions are beginning to soften. Add sausage to pan and brown, breaking up sausage into kidney bean-sized crumbles.

While sausage is browning, bring 8 c. water to a boil in a large pot. Dissolve bullion into pot.

Add cauliflower to skillet with onions/garlic/sausage and cook for about 5 minutes over medium-high to mingle flavors. Add cauliflower mixture to pot, deglazing skillet with a bit of the boiling chicken broth if necessary.

Add kale to pot; stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste; add red pepper flakes if using (we like it a bit spicy, so we use about 1/2 t. plus hot Italian sausage).

Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until cauliflower is very tender and kale is bright green and tender. Add cream; stir well and remove from heat.

Top each portion with bacon and a generous sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

Serves 8.

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