Hearty, creamy & full of complex flavors. My version of a Zuppa Toscana that is #dairyfree is so full of flavor, yet is a breeze to make that, you will want to make this a weekly staple. At least when there are cooler temps (but like no judgment if its still 85 degrees where you live & you make this). Traditionally made with spicy Italian sausage, I've also provided a ground chicken alternative that is perfect if you don't eat pork.
Literally the second the temps drop below 80 degrees you can find me in the kitchen making soup. 100% guarantee. I L-O-V-E soup. I still make soup during the warmer months, but I tend to stay away once we are in the full heat of 100 degree summer. It's only then that I am not craving soup. I know I could make a cold soup like a gazpacho, but they never really seem to hit the spot for me...maybe I will try again next year. If not, I still have this soup here & honestly, I can't guarantee that I will be waiting for sub 80 degree weather to make it.
Even when I first started cooking I always liked making soups for a few reasons:
Require very little skill in the kitchen
Can be whipped up relatively quickly
Great place to dump the produce that was going to go bad in my refrigerator
In my opinion, soups are one of the best places to learn how to balance flavors and texture while not being under a strict time-sensitive cooking point like many other dishes. With a soup, you can continue to taste and adjust the spices, herbs, and saltiness of dish while it cooks. You can also more easily control the textures of the dish by adjusting the intensity of the heat from the stove as well adjust the cooking time. I personally think that if you are trying to learn how to be a better cook, start making soups.
As a kid I always loved the Zuppa Toscana from Olive Garden. Like come on, how could you not? That bowl of creamy, spicy soup with their hot garlic breadsticks was a dream. I was thinking about it the other day (yes, I day dream about food constantly) and found various copy-cat recipes and of course stumbled up on other "healthier" versions. I knew I wanted to make something like it but also was thinking how I could make this without the Italian sausage that gives this soup its signature smoky, spiciness (you know, because the hubs doesn't eat any meat other than chicken...). That's when I figured I could make my own version of an Italian sausage but with ground chicken instead. So I used the Spicy Italian Chicken Sausage recipe below in place of Italian Pork Sausage. Sunil is okay with me using bacon fat so I did still cook the bacon and used the fat to sauté the onion, garlic, fennel and leeks but if you are 100% pork free then use 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in lieu of the bacon fat. *All of this is outlined in the recipe below*
Soups are also such a beautiful space to pack in a ton of nutrients and nourishing foods that can make you feel the best feelings in the world. I'm not kidding but something about eating a bowl of soup makes me feel comforted, safe, nourished and seriously full (physically and emotionally). This might sound a little woo-woo but I am certain I am not alone. I mean look around Instagram as soon as the temps drop and EVERYONE is making soup. That's because it makes us feel GOOD. I find that soups are such an intuitive way of eating that a lot of people practice without really recognizing that they are fully giving into what their body is asking for. What I love about this Zuppa Toscana is that it is full of heathy fats, tons of micronutrients from the kale (think Vitamin A, C, K, B6, Calcium, Potassium), more minerals and collagen from the bone broth and complex carbohydrates from the potatoes. If you wanted to make this soup lower carb and #keto friendly then all you have to do is leave out the potatoes and use cauliflower florets instead. A cauliflower version of this soup would be an amazing way to still indulge in this nourishing soup but without the starchy carbs if you find that you function better on a #lowcarb diet.
Hopefully even if you don't consider yourself much of a cook then you can use this recipe as a base to make some pretty delicious soups and starting getting more comfortable balancing flavors and textures in your cooking. You could make so many versions of this by using white beans, adding carrots or parsnips, remove the coconut milk for a less creamy soup, use gluten free noodles or rice in place of the potatoes...the possibilities are endless. My challenge to you is to find at least one soup that you feel super confident in making and start playing around with it. And if you are missing an ingredient from a recipe, don't let that stop you from making your own version and putting your own unique twist on it. Now go make this!
Fennel & Leek Zuppa Toscana
1 lb spicy Italian pork sausage (see below for my ground chicken version)
4 cups of chicken bone broth
1 can full fat coconut milk
4-5 pieces of sugar-free bacon, chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
½ cup leeks, white & light green parts only, halved & sliced
1 fennel bulb, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 medium Yukon gold potatoes, cut into bite-sized cubes
½ bunch of kale, remove stems & chop leaves (~4 cups)
4 sprigs thyme
½ tsp red chili flakes (adjust based on spicy preference)
1⁄4 cup parsley, chopped + more for garnish
½ tsp salt (adjust as necessary)
1⁄4 tsp ground pepper (adjust as necessary)
*Optional Parmesan rind (if cow's milk tolerated well) or Pecorino Romano rind (sheep's milk)
**If not making with pork, use 1 tbsp butter & 1 tbsp olive oil in lieu of bacon fat
***For a lower carb option, sub cauliflower florets for the potatoes
In a Dutch oven over medium heat, add Italian sausage (or ground chicken) & sprinkle red chili flakes over. Break up the sausage using a spoon & cook until browned & cooked all the way through. Drain & set aside in a bowl.
Add bacon to Dutch oven & cook bacon on medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon, set aside on paper towels but keep that bacon fat! (If not using pork, including bacon, heat 1 tbsp butter & 1 tbsp olive oil in pan in lieu of bacon fat.)
Add onion, leek, fennel & garlic to the bacon fat in the Dutch oven. Cook about 5 minutes until onions & fennel are translucent.
Add chicken bone broth to Dutch oven with onion, leeks, fennel & garlic. Bring to boil over high heat. Add potatoes, thyme & cheese rind (if using). Cook until potatoes are fork tender, about 10-15 min.
Reduce heat to medium & stir in can of coconut milk. Add cooked sausage back to Dutch oven. Adjust seasonings as needed. Simmer for 5 minutes.
Add most of bacon (leave some for garnish), 1⁄4 cup chopped parsley & kale. Cook until kale is wilted & bright green.
Garnish with chopped parsley, bacon & grated cheese (optional of course) when serving.
Spicy Italian Chicken Sausage
1 lb ground chicken (or ground pork if wanting to make Whole30 Italian sausage)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp red chili flakes
½ tsp dried oregano
1⁄4 tsp dried thyme
Mix ingredients in a bowl until combined. Can be used as a substitute to Italian pork sausage.