Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Homemade: Zuppa Tuscana Better then the Olive Garden!

This is my version of Zuppa Tuscana from The Olive Garden. 

It has almost become a ritual, When I return from Asia, I'm craving fresh salad, soups without an inch of chili oil on top and hot bread. So I end up at The Olive Garden for a lunchtime all you can eat soup salad and bread sticks.

In Asia, fresh uncooked greens are almost non-existent and, where available, should only be eaten when you are absolutely positively sure you will have access to a good bathroom for the next week or so. Basically I only eat cooked vegetables in China. I love Chinese food, and eat a lot of it when I am there, but there is something just so comforting about "Italian" food as it's served in the US. Zuppa Tuscana is hands down my favorite thing at the Olive Garden. Why don't I make this at home and I can have it any time I want!

This soup can be made in about 40 minutes so it's perfect for a quick soup after work and it gets better the second day. I had a little mishap during my cooking process which made it take a little over an hour start to finish.

As with all great food the secret to a great result is using the best fresh ingredients, using the right techniques, and just getting out of the way.

First things first, buy really good Italian sausage! This is going to be the main seasoning for the entire soup, don't go skiving off and buy some Oscar Mayer bologna Italian flavored sausage product. Go to a butcher, go to someone who cares about making a quality product, it will be worth it in the end believe me!

High Quality Italian sausage, onions and sliced garlic
Garlic is much tastier when it's sliced then when it's mashed, minced or smashed through a garlic masher. You actually get little bites of simmered garlic in the final product which are delightful, mellow, and full of garlic-y goodness, once they are cooked they lose the sharp sting of fresh garlic and are a real pleasure to eat.

If the Italian Sausage came in links then slice the membrane and remove the sausage from the casing. We want this sausage to really break up into tiny pieces and flavor the whole soup. First things first, add a tablespoon of oil into a large soup pot and sear small pieces of sausage on high heat until they are golden brown.

Try not to crowd the pan too much, we're looking to brown the meat, and if you add too much sausage it will lose water faster then the pan can boil it away and you'll end up steaming the meat instead of searing it. If you don't sear it, you don't get a good golden fond at the bottom of the pan and you're losing a lot of flavor! Never give up on flavor!

Also, for supreme browning try this La creuset Dutch oven on Amazon

Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 5-1/2-Quart Round French (Dutch) Oven, Cherry

I did the sausage in a couple of batches, but as usual rushed more then I should have and didn't get as much caramelization as I would have liked. If the bottom of the pan starts to burn, add a handful of water or chicken stock to release it from the bottom of the pan.  

When you are done searing the sausage remove it from the heat and set aside. Reduce your temperature to medium and add your onions, garlic, and a bay leaf. cook this in the oil from the sausage.

Cook this mixture until the onions have become translucent (don't forget to salt). I found the absolute best bay leaves I have ever tasted, check this out. 

They were rather insanely $7 for this jar, but DAAAANG they are so aromatic and fresh they make my eyes water! So much flavor. Good ingredients make all of the difference!

Add your chicken stock. Or like in my case when you frantically realize you don't have any more chicken stock, make some more! I always have a big case boxed chicken stock in my cabinet... except for last night. I must have used it all up without buying more. Genius Max, genius. 

What I did have was half a rotisserie chicken. I removed all of the bones and tossed them on top of my onion and garlic mixture, added a few mushrooms my friend picked wild in Latvia and covered it all with water and increased to a hard rolling boil for 20 minutes. 

Wild Latvian Boletes Mushrooms, they smell almost spiced!
Normally I wouldn't suggest making any stock at a rolling boil. It makes your broth cloudy and opaque. However it's faster, and since I already know I'm adding cream to this soup, the cloudiness doesn't really matter. If you want a clear chicken stock, simmer your bones at just barely under a simmer for 2-3 hours. I pulled out all of the little bones after 20 minutes.

I'll admit, this stock was probably better then the fancy boxed stuff I usually buy. 

After your stock is up to a boil add 3 large russet potatoes quartered the long way then sliced into 1/4 inch slices. I had to add a Yukon gold potato when I ran out of Russets. I prefer the Russets because they break down a little bit more in the soup and act as a thickener. 

Boil for about 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are soft and tender.

De-stem your kale and roughly chop it. It's going to look like a LOT of kale, but remember it will cook down in the soup. Plus once it's soaked up the sausage-y broth and cream this health food will be crazy addictive.

Add it to the pot along with your sausage and let it simmer lightly for 5 minutes. Once the meat is back in the pot DO NOT let it come to a full boil, this will remove all of the tenderness of the meat. Never let meat proteins boil. 

After 5 minutes add a splash of half and half and pepper. Honestly the half and half can be at any level you like. Anywhere from a few tablespoons to a whole cup would be fine, just remember you can't take it out once it's in!

Serve in a hipsterish bowl you bought at St Vincent de Paul, and enjoy. Post on Instagram to make people jealous of how awesome you are. 

Remember guys support the blog and check out this incredible Cast Iron Dutch Oven. Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 5-1/2-Quart Round French (Dutch) Oven, Cherry

1 lb of GOOD Italian Sausage
1 medium onion diced
4 cloves of garlic sliced
1 bay leaf
32 oz of chicken stock. (homemade if you screw up!)
3 large Russet potatoes quartered lengthwise and sliced 1/4" thick
1 large Bunch of Kale de-stemmed and roughly chopped
A big splash of half and half

TL;DR recipe:

Sear sausage in 1 Tb of oil, remove from pan.
Cook onions, garlic and bay leaf in the leftover oil until translucent
Add chicken stock and bring to a boil
Add potatoes and boil until soft ~15 min
Add sale and seared sausage, simmer for 5 minutes
Add a big slash of Half and half (it doesn't take that much) 
Taste to season with salt and pepper. 
Share on social media because you're a social media slut like me. 

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