I love to cook, but I also love to eat out. One of my favorite things to do at a restaurant – besides enjoy the company of my companions and eat good food – is to try to figure out all the ingredients in a dish. Some are obvious, of course, but it’s the nuances that pique my interest. Usually it is trying to discover the spices and herbs that make me slow down and really taste the dish. And, then the truly fun part is to go home and try to recreate it.
Sometimes I look for recipes that have similarities to the dish I tasted. I look the basic ingredients, and then refine the recipe to my memory of the food. This is how I came up with the Tuscan Potato Soup recipe.
I simply love the Toscana soup at The Olive Garden. Say what you will about a chain restaurant, I’ve always found the ol’ Garden to be reliable and consistent in their food preparation. And besides, it’s a favorite of my mom’s – soup (Toscana, of course), salad and bread sticks. You can’t beat the value, and the soup bowl is bottomless. They don’t make any money on my mom. She’s a little woman but she can put back three bowls of that delicious soup.
The Olive Garden’s Toscana soup has sliced potatoes, sausage and greens (which I assumed was kale, a typical Italian ingredient), in a light cream base. I came across a recipe that had the right “feel” – though it called for kielbasa, spinach and chicken stock but no milk. The bones of the recipe I wanted to create were there, so I used some of the basic measurements for portion size, and this is what I came up with.
According to my mom – the expert on this soup – it is just as delicious as The Olive Garden’s offering, and maybe even better. I’ll go with the latter. Thanks, Mom.
Tuscan Potato Soup
8 ounces of Italian sausage meat (pork or chicken; mild or hot, depending on your taste), equal to about 3 sausages
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
2 medium potatoes, cleaned but unpeeled, sliced 1/8th inch thick
2 15 oz. cans of chicken broth, plus
½ can of water
½ teaspoon chopped fresh oregano (1/8th dried)
½ teaspoon chopped fresh thyme (1/8th dried)
¼ cup dry white wine (optional)
4 – 5 de-stemmed kale leaves, sliced in thin strips
½ cup cream (¾ cup if using half & half or whole milk, or try almond milk if you are avoiding dairy)
At medium heat in a soup pot or Dutch oven, brown the sausage meat, breaking into small pieces as it cooks. Add garlic and onion, cook 3 or so minutes; then add sliced potatoes and gently mix everything together. Cook for about 5 minutes.
Add chicken broth, water and herbs. Cover and let simmer on low for approximately 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
Add white wine and chopped kale leaves, mix gently and simmer another 10 minutes.
Remove pot from heat, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes before stirring in the cream. If you add while the soup is very hot, the cream or milk can curdle.
Serve immediately, topped with grated Parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of cracked black pepper. Paired with hot, crusty bread and a nice green salad, you have a wonderful meal.
I love this soup. It’s fast and easy to make but tastes like you’ve spent hours preparing it. My husband and I ate half the pot for dinner on Thursday night and had the rest for lunch on Saturday. Just like leftover stew, the second feed tasted even better than the first because the flavors have a chance to meld.
Soup – in its many delicious forms – is one of those dishes that never fails to warm my entire being, I suppose because it has been a staple in my family for generations. Next week I’ll share that soup history and my mom’s family-famous recipe!
Enjoy! Eat well. Be happy.