I have a confession. I have no specialty dish that I can claim to master. I’m spoiled rotten when it comes to cooking traditional meals. I’m blessed to have both my parents and my mother law to cook our traditional Latino foods; Pozole, Menudo, Tamales, Carnitas are all made by them on holidays and special events. All I get tasked with is bringing a side dish, dessert or drinks. And even then, it’s just easier for me to buy the item than to make it. Don’t get me wrong I have a family and I cook but because I work full time and attend school full time, we go out to eat most of the week. (Don’t judge me, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it).
My immediate family consist of my husband, myself and our four kids. Its considered a large family by today’s standards. A night of eating out is not always the healthiest, our usual is Pizza (my picky 4-year-old child’s favorite), hamburgers or tacos. Cheap, fast and easy. Every once in a while, we splurge. One cold winter night we decided to have dinner at Olive Garden. My husband and I had been on plenty of dates to Olive Garden but never with the kids. This was a whole new experience for them. As we arrived the waiter asked how many? Under what name? As we sat for 20 minutes waiting to be called, I looked around at the décor, the grapevines decorating the restaurant, the waiter toting a wine bottle and serving. The colorful words on the chalkboard announcing the lunch and dinner specials. I could tell my 6-year-old daughter thought it was fancy. The server called my husband’s name and and then we were seated.
As we waited on the waiter to take our order, we discussed our visit to the restaurant. Sometime children like to play 21 questions and ours were no exception. We confessed to the kids this was not our first-time visiting Olive Garden. They were a little upset to find out we go to restaurants without them. I’m not sure why they were so shocked. That night we ordered the chicken fettuccine alfredo, the tour of Italy and the lasagna al forno. The entrees included a soup or salad. We all opted for soup. Chicken gnocchi or Toscana. We’re not Italian and I wasn’t sure what gnocchi was so I chose my usual Zuppa Toscana. It translates to “Tuscan Soup”.
I’d describe it like a creamy potato soup loaded with flavorful Italian sausage, kale, and bacon. It is a warm creamy soup consisting of Spicy Italian Sausage, potatoes and kale. It warms your heart and soul. It is so hearty and satisfying. Its served piping hot and every mouthful contains potatoes and Italian sausage with a hint of bacon that melts in your mouth.
As our soup came we all dug in. While we sat with our faces nearly buried in the soup bowls, devouring this soup with an endless supply of breadsticks of course. It was so good in fact, my 6-year-old daughter started choking in the middle of eating her soup. At least 3 people and the waiter ran to help. We could not believe she was choking as I stated earlier the soup melts in your mouth. My husband was about to pick her up to start the Heimlich maneuver when she said she was alright. A piece of Kale had not fully made its way down her throat. Even the waiter remarked, “Wasn’t she having soup?” That night we wrapped up dinner with a new story and a new family favorite comfort food. It’s been 7 years since that incident and we still poke fun at her about it. Who chokes on cooked mushy kale… my daughter Josie that’s who. Would Josie’s experience always come to mind when we visit Olive Garden? But most importantly would we only have our creamy, hearty Zuppa Toscana during rare visits at Olive Garden? Could I duplicate their decadent recipe at home? Everything and anything is on the internet, right? The search was on. It was 2011 and all the information in the world was in the palm of my hand.
I Googled the recipe for Zuppa Toscana from Olive Garden and I got hundreds of results. I found the recipe I currently use on Copykat.com however I modified it a tad. It is quick and easy and I save myself a ton of money but most importantly cooking it is a breeze and my family loves it.
On a cold night, this soup will keep you and yours warm and cozy. It’s a guaranteed hit and best of all clean-up is a breeze because it’s a one pot meal.
Serves 4-6 people
1 lb of Italian Sausage (hot or mild, I prefer “hot” to add a tiny kick)
½ small onion diced
1 small garlic clove finely chopped
1 tbs Knoor chicken Bouillon
1 cup chopped kale
1 cup heavy whipping cream
½ cup bacon bits
8 russet potatoes sliced width wide
Shredded parmesan cheese (optional)
Brown the Italian sausage in a large soup pot.
Mix the sausage with ½ onion and diced garlic clove, Sautee the onion.
Once the onion is transparent, add 4 cups of water.
Then add the potatoes and bacon bits.
Once the potatoes are soft add the heavy whipping cream, kale and the chicken Bouillon.
Bring to boil. Use the parmesan cheese to garnish the soup.
Enjoy, try not to choke on the Kale.
As I was researching the origin of this tasty soup, I was finding it incredibly difficult to find information. I was certain the soup was considered a “peasant” soup. A soup made by Tuscany’s poor people since Medieval Times with inexpensive ingredients. Capatti and Montanari extensively explored the subject and stated “Medieval culture was finely attuned to the differences communicated through behavioral code, among which eating habits were of primary importance. Within this scheme of things vegetables were clearly identified as the food of peasants and the impoverished.” They illustrate this point they cited a story of a monk, whom encountered an elderly pilgrim returning from Rome, travelling with a sack the stinky garlic, onions and leeks. There are countless stories during history that associate vegetables with poor or lower class.
Scholars note, throughout the centuries vegetables have gained “social success”. In the 16th Century, Italians first encountered Potato’s in the America’s and described them as tasting like “chestnuts.” The Potato would remain suspicious to the Italians. It would be another 200 years before Italians would incorporate them into their diets. This was partly due to necessity. Famine struck Italy in the 18th century and a massive propaganda campaign was launched by Public Officials that finally convinced peasants and farmers to incorporate the Potato to their daily diet and crops. Some even suggested using it as a replacement for wheat flour in baking. Potato were also used to prepare dumplings, a dish favored by many in Middle Ages. By the 19th Century the potato had reach the “high” culture. This import was now an ingredient found in many recipes for the “cultured” class.
Dickie, John. “Tuscany: Don’t Tell the Peasants.” Delizia!: The Epic History of the Italians and Their Food. London: Sceptre, 2007. N. page. Print.
Http://www.facebook.com/copykatrecipes. “Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana.” Restaurant Recipes – Popular Restaurant Recipes You Can Make at Home: Copykat.com. N.p., 10 Jan. 2013. Web. 10 Dec. 2016.
Capatti, Alberto, and Montanari, Massimo. Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History : Italian Cuisine : A Cultural History. New York, US: Columbia University Press, 2003. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 10 December 2016.
Weaver, William Woys, and Solomon H. Katz. Encyclopedia Of Food And Culture. New York: Gale Division of Cengage Learning Inc, 2003. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 10 Dec. 2016.
“Zuppa Toscana.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2016