Zuppa Toscana (Potato and Sausage Soup with Kale)

>> Monday, October 24, 2016

Zuppa Toscana (Potato and Sausage Soup with Kale)

Our daughters both worked at the local Red Lobster early in their job careers. This meant that they received discounts to all the Darden-brand restaurants, including the local Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse, and Bahama Breeze. Their favorite was Olive Garden, so we used to have lovely girl-dates there with the all-you-can-eat soup and salad lunches.

This recipe is a re-creation of Olive Garden's Zuppa Toscana, an Italian sausage, potato, and kale soup with a splash of cream. We made a few tweaks for our own tastes. We lightened up by using low-fat chicken sausage and fat-free half and half, and we added spinach for extra vitamins and fiber. The result was so good that we've eaten it over and over again. This is not a soup that takes all day to make; you can whip it up within an hour.

Re-creation of Olive Garden's Zuppa Toscana

Joe approached the idea of soup with spinach and kale with some trepidation, since he still bears the scars of childhood when he was served boiled greens as a glop of mush. But the kale held its texture during cooking, and we stirred in the baby spinach right at the end. It gave a delicate flavor while holding its shape in the creamy, brothy deliciousness.

Potato and sausage soup with kale

I think I need to go make another pot. Did I mention it takes less than an hour to make?


6 large red-skinned potatoes, scrubbed
1 medium yellow onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground fennel
1 quart chicken broth
1 lb. fully-cooked smoked or Italian chicken sausages
2 cups kale, washed and drained
2 cups baby spinach, washed and drained
1 pint fat-free half and half
Salt and pepper to taste


Slice the potatoes and onions 1/2 inch thick and place them in a large pot. Add the garlic, cayenne, nutmeg, and fennel. Pour in the chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cover. 

Slice the cooked sausages into irregular 1/2 inch pieces. Coarsely chop the kale. When the potatoes are nearly tender, stir the sausage and kale into the pot and continue simmering until the potatoes are tender, about 20-30 minutes.

Coarsely chop the spinach and stir it into the soup. Pour in the half and half and add salt and pepper. Heat through for 5 minutes before serving.

Makes about 2 quarts of soup.


Brazilian-Style Collard Greens

>> Sunday, October 16, 2016

Brazilian-Style Collard Greens

I confess I don't know much at all about Southern Cooking - I'm about as Yankee as you can get. Like most Midwesterners about my age, we ate green leafy things in two ways - as boiled spinach in gloppy slimy wads, and as green salads, mostly full of iceberg lettuce or maybe a shredded cabbage coleslaw.

Collard greens definitely looked like the slimy blobs of spinach I never wanted to eat again, but hey, millions of southern Americans must be on to something, right?

Last year, Joe and I were exploring the Chicago History Museum in Lincoln Park, and just a few blocks away was a soul food restaurant with a yummy emphasis on Creole/Cajun dishes. Oh heck yeah, we were there. 

Epiphany Restaurant is not a fancy place, and the service is notoriously slow. The best way to enjoy the place is to order a bottle of wine when you sit down, and go there on a night when you've been busy all week and have a lot of catching up to do with your partner or friends. You'll be enjoying things in long, slow Cajun courses.

We loved the etouffee, fried oysters, and dirty rice, but the Brazilian-style collard greens were much more than we expected. These weren't clots of gooey greens - these were bright green leaves full of saucy flavor and a zing of orange zest. Healthy, too!  We went home, harvested the last of the summer greens from our garden, and got to work re-creating this dish.


3 slices bacon
2 pounds collard greens (2 to 3 large bunches)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup finely diced red pepper
1 1/2 tsp orange zest
1/4 cup strong chicken broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


Fry the bacon in a large, wide skillet until crisp. Let the bacon drain on paper towels, and then chop it well. Leave the bacon grease in the pan.

Rinse off the collard greens. Remove the largest stems, then gather bunches of the leaves together and roll them up into a bundle. Thinly slice the bundles crosswise, cutting the leaves into very thin strips.

Sliced collard greens

Heat up the bacon grease and add the garlic and red pepper. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are just golden and fragrant. Add the greens and toss for about 3 minutes, until they are bright green and softened. Stir in the chicken broth, then sprinkle on the salt and pepper. Serve warm.

Serve 4-6.


Red Cabbage and Apples in Red Wine Sauce

>> Friday, October 7, 2016

red cabbage and apples sauteed in red wine

Cabbage is not one of those things you find in our house on a regular basis. Joe has a childhood block against cabbage, but likes a bit of mild sauerkraut, cole slaw, or some of those kinder, gentler cabbages like Napa or Bok Choy.

I loooooovvvveee cabbage. Oh, how I love corned beef and cabbage, Reuben sandwiches, or any form of sauerkraut or coleslaw or that cabbage salad with the crispy ramen noodles and almonds. My problem is, cabbage doesn't like me at all. It's delicious, but not quite so fun later on.

Oh, then we found this recipe. Glorious violet cabbages with glossy skins are burgeoning in our stores, and we had some sharp and sweet apples better for cooking than eating out of hand. We had to at least give them a try, and we've made it twice more in the last six weeks.

This is a traditional German recipe but I bet lots of other cold-weather countries have found the same sort of combination of sweet-sour cabbage that simmers out the harsh taste. I'm pretty sure this will be on our table until fresh cabbages are no longer in season.


2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp sugar
1 cup sliced onion
2 Granny Smith or other tart apples, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped
6 cups shredded red cabbage (this is about half of a large red cabbage)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 cups beef broth
Salt and pepper to taste
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp flour
1 cup red wine


In a large skillet, melt the butter. Stir in the sugar until melted. Add the onion and apples saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Turn up the heat and add the cabbage, glazing them with the butter and sugar.

braising Red Cabbage and Apples

Add the bay leaf, salt and pepper, then pour in the red wine vinegar and 1 cup of the beef broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes, until the cabbage is starting to get tender. Sprinkle with the flour and stir well.

Sprinkle the flour over the cabbage and toss well to mix. Stir in the wine and the remaining broth. Simmer gently for a few minutes, until the sauce is thickened. Remove the bay leaf and serve.

Serves 6 as a side dish.

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