Italian Zuppa Toscana All’Americana

 

Zuppa Toscana All’Americana literally translates as ‘American Style Tuscan Soup’, it’s a filling sausage and potato soup that can be eaten on its own, or with crusty Italian bread such as toasted ciabatta or focaccia. It’s a great winter soup: hearty, tasty, and not that bad for you either. This recipe is based on the American version, popularised by the restaurant chain ‘Olive Garden’. The Olive Garden recipe calls for chilli flakes, but I cheated a bit here and chilli oil instead as I think it gives an extra layer of flavour. I also used spinach in my version as a substitute for kale as I’m not a big fan (!).

 

INGREDIENTS

Italian sausage is quite hard to find in the UK, but it’s worth using instead of regular sausages if you can manage it. This is because it has a coarser texture and tends to be more fragrant. I think the flavours in Italian sausage usually complement Italian food better; they focus a lot on fresh herbs, garlic, fennel seeds and wine.

Kale is a superfood, so it’s packed full of nutrients and vitamins. It’s also very easy to prepare and cook. Choose the smaller heads of kale when buying it; they are usually more tender and have a better flavour. The larger the leaves grow, the tougher they become and the more the flavour is diluted. If you happen to like the taste and texture, it adds a fresh, light dimension to this otherwise rich and comforting soup. I substituted spinach for the kale as I feel it gives you the lightness and added nutrition with a smoother texture.

 

HISTORY

This version of the soup is highly popular in the US, and many amateur cooks (such as myself) have been inspired to put their own little twist on Olive Garden’s iconic recipe. The traditional version differs quite a bit from its American counterpart, featuring more of a typically European-style base for soups: celery, carrot, onion. It also adds courgette (zucchini) and white beans, two very Tuscan ingredients.

The original Italian recipe for this soup features Tuscan ‘rigatino’, a type of Italian bacon. It’s different from the well-known pancetta because it comes from the upper part of the pig, and, when cured, it’s seasoned with citrus peel, rosemary and garlic. It can be hard to find in the UK. I felt that the best alternative I could find was thinly sliced pancetta which crispens up nicely in a dry pan.

 

WHAT YOU NEED

Where possible, try to buy local, seasonal and organic/free range ingredients. Apart from it being better to support local businesses and high welfare farming practises, it does make a huge difference to the taste of your food! 

large glug of olive oil

large glug of white wine

1 onion, thinly diced

3 minced cloves of garlic

500g Italian sausage (or herby sausages)

6 slices of thinly sliced pancetta

5 medium russet or maris piper potatoes

500g kale (or spinach)

1l chicken stock

100ml double cream

chilli infused extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper, to taste

 

Prep Time: 20 min

Cooking Time: 1hr

Serves: 4-5 people

 

METHOD

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. Crumble the sausage onto a non-stick baking tray and place in the oven for 20 mins, until the sausage has started to turn brown all over.
  2. While the sausage is cooking, heat a dry non-stick frying pan on a high heat chop up the pancetta into small pieces and chuck them in the pan. Stir until they are crispy. The fat from the pancetta is sufficient, so you don’t need any oil. Take the pan off the heat as soon as the pancetta is done, and set aside.
  3. Put a heavy cast iron pan on the hob on a medium heat with a large glug of olive oil and dice the onion. Once the pan is hot, you should be just about able to smell the oil, chuck in the onion with a large pinch of salt, stir and cook it down until the onions are translucent (turn the heat down if they start to go brown!).
  4. While that’s all cooking, mince your garlic, wash and chop your kale (or wash the spinach). Peel your potatoes and cut into small chunks.
  5. When the onions are softened, add the minced garlic and let it infuse. After 30 seconds or so, add the chopped potato and chicken stock. Let it simmer until the potatoes start to fully break apart, about 20-30 mins. You can break them up with a wooden spoon or spatula to help them along.
  6. Add the sausages and half the pancetta, simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  7. Turn the heat lower and add the kale (or spinach) and cream, stir through and season to taste. You just want the green leaves to wilt, so you don’t really need to cook them much.
  8. Dish out into bowls and top with the remaining pancetta, serve with a drizzle of chilli oil and crusty bread. Yum!

 

ADAPTATIONS

LF – omit the cream, or use a lactose free substitute

GF – this soup is already gluten free, just use GF bread

V – you could try using a vegetarian sausage and omit the bacon, but I’m not sure if it would work well

Ve – try using veggie sausage, omit the bacon and cream

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