Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Crock Pot Zuppa Toscana

 My dear friend Aimee recently gave me some mustard greens that her and her family weren't going to use. I had many options in mind, and ways I could transform these greens into something delicious, but I decided to treat them as kale. I've been wanting to try my hand and replicating the Zuppa Toscana Soup from Olive Garden, and I thought now is as good a time as any. (BTW: If you have the time and the inclination to stay near your stove you could easily make this soup in about 45 minutes, but I wanted to make it in the crock pot so I could go about my day and not have to worry about dinner.)
   I didn't have a bowl of soup from Olive Garden next to me for comparison, but I think it's pretty spot on. My dad used to make this soup for us when I was little so I always think of him (and Olive Garden) when I eat it. Yummy goodness for sure.
   It's really easy, and it only takes a few ingredients. You might have everything on hand already (I did).

It starts with 1 lb of Italian sausage. I like the ground kind, but if you prefer links or the "hot" variety then by all means, make it with the ingredients you like best! Since I'm cooking for the little ones too, I generally go with the mild variety, and then just add a little red pepper flakes to taste.

I just put the sausage into a large skillet. (No oil, because I'm using pork sausage and it's fatty enough already. If you choose a leaner variety - i.e. chicken sausage - you'll need to add about 1 Tbsp oil to the pan first to prevent sticking.) Also, I use already cooked bacon (1/4 cup of real bacon bits from Costco) in this soup. If you don't have any already cooked, you'll need to cook up about 2-3 slices.)

I break it up with a spoon, but not too small. I want the sausage to be distinguishable in the soup and have a definite presence. I cook it over medium high heat, to get a nice sear on it. (I hear Carla Hall in my head saying, "There's flavor in the brown!" And also Anne Burrell saying, "Brown food tastes good!")

While the sausage is browning, turn your attention to your crock pot. I always spray mine with no-stick cooking spray so that it's easier clean up for my amazing hubby. (Does your significant other do your dishes too? I hope so.)
Then, I chop up one medium onion.

Just chop off both ends, slice it in half and peel off the skin.

Then I make vertical slits,

and then slice against the grain to get nice little dices.

These go into the crock pot. (Sorry the pic is blurry.) -If you choose to make this on the stove, instead of in the crock pot I would just add the onions (and garlic that you see later) to the sausage that's browning.

Next come the potatoes. 3 large (I'm talking Costco sized large) Russet potatoes. Cleaned and unpeeled.

Slice each potato into disks, setting the ends aside.

Cut the disks in half length wise

and then turn the disks and make 3 cuts. Now you should have nicely (pretty uniform) cut potatoes. (If you are making your soup on the stove instead of in the crock pot, you can cut your potato pieces a little smaller. For the crock pot they need to be a little on the big side because they get cooked for so long.)

The end pieces I just cut into quarters.

The cut potatoes get added to the crock pot.

The sausage should be nicely browned by now. Remove it from the grease (remember I didn't add any oil, this is just what cooked out of the sausage), and . . .

add it to the crock pot. - Along with your 1/4 cup of crumbled bacon.

2-3 tsp of minced garlic goes in (that's about 2-3 cloves). This is to taste. If you like a lot of garlic, then add more. :)

Now, if I had thought about making this soup the night before I would have gotten out some of my Homemade Chicken Stock out of the freezer, but this was kind of a last minute meal decision, so I used canned chicken broth instead. You'll need about 4 cups (or 2 cans)

1 cup of water is added, along with 1/2 tsp of Italian seasoning and as many red pepper flakes as you'd like.
 The lid goes on, the heat is set to low and you walk away. (I love my slow-cooker!)

 At some point you will need to prep your greens. I just did it now, so that it would be ready for me later. You'll need 1 bunch of greens. 2-4 cups depending on taste. I believe that Olive Garden uses kale, so that would be my green of choice, but I had mustard greens on hand so I used that instead.

Just remove the stems and roughly chop the leaves. I had about 4 cups.

After about 5 hours I checked on my potatoes, and they were tender so I finished my soup then, It would be fine if you needed to let yours cook longer, just realize that the potatoes will break down a little more. No biggie. :) If you choose to make this on the stove, then check your potatoes after about 20 minutes.

In go the greens. I know, it looks like a lot. It looks like they will never fit. But they will . . .

Just use a spoon and gently push the greens down into the soup. As soon as they hit the hot broth they will start to wilt.

And voila! In literally seconds, the mountain of greens wilted down and fit into the soup seamlessly. :)

The lid goes on and everything simmers together for about 30 minutes or so. (15 if you're making this on the stove.)

When the greens are tender, turn the crock pot off and add 1 cup of heavy cream.

Taste it for seasoning (add salt and pepper to taste), and serve it up. You can grate on some Parmesan cheese like they offer you at Olive Garden or you can eat it as is.

Don't forget the garlic bread sticks! (I used about 1/4 of my recipe for No-Kead French Bread. Formed the dough into bread sticks, baked them @ 350F for 15 minutes and then brushed them with a mixture of butter and granulated garlic. They were a remarkable copy-cat of the Olive Garden bread sticks, if I do say so myself. Maybe not as pretty, but just as tasty.)

This is how I like to eat mine. I dunk my bread into my soup. Do you do that to?

This really is so similar to the Zuppa Toscana soup at Olive Garden! (Although mine is probably a little heartier, because I think their potatoes are smaller and they serve you more broth). But I love that I can make it at home and it's so simple!
    I hope you enjoy it too!
Here's the recipe:

Crock Pot Zuppa Toscana (Olive Garden Copy Cat)

1 lb ground Italian sausage (if using "hot" sausage, reduce the amount of red pepper flakes)
1 medium onion, diced
3 large russet potatoes, washed with the skin on, cubed
2-3 tsp of minced garlic  (to taste)
1/4 cup cooked and crumbled bacon (about 3 slices)
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (to taste)
4 cups of chicken stock (or 2 cans)
1 cup of water
1 bunch of kale, stems/veins removed, sliced (2-4 cups depending on taste)
1 cup of heavy cream
salt and freshly ground black pepper (to taste)

Break up and brown the sausage. To the crock pot, add the onion, diced potatoes, garlic, bacon, Italian seasoning, and red pepper flakes. Drain the sausage and add to the crock pot. Add the chicken stock and water. Set the slow-cooker to low and cook for 5-8 hours (the longer it cooks, the more the potatoes will break down). Add the sliced kale and stir. Cook on low for another 30 minutes. Turn the heat off and add the cream, salt and pepper. Serve hot with a garnish of Parmesan cheese and garlic bread sticks (optional).


  1. Yum! I'm gonna make this. thanks for sharing!

    1. I hope you guys enjoy it! Our family loves it. My Handsome Man says that it is his favorite soup! :)

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