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Zuppa Toscana Soup (Olive Garden copycat)
A hearty and delicious Italian restaurant favorite you can make at home, but even better!
Homemade doesn’t always mean a recipe will taste better than it’s restaurant counterpart. But in this case, homemade beats the restaurant version hands down! Seasoned to perfection, this soup is so much more than a milky potato and sausage soup. This soup is warming, filling, flavorful comfort food worthy of an entire meal.
Our Tuscan inspired soup is creamy, but not too thick. It has great texture with chunks of sweet Italian sausage and chewy, vibrant kale leaves. The tender, buttery potatoes are filling and practically melt in your mouth. With just the right amount of tender vegetables and salty bacon, this is a company-worthy meal you’ll want to make again and again.
Each step of this Zuppa Toscana soup recipe is designed to build flavor.
The flavor starts with a few slices of bacon, cooked until crisp, then removed to drain. Sweet Italian sausage is added to the drippings, seared and broken into chunks. Let the sausage brown a little bit on the bottom before stirring. It develops wonderful flavor and adds a nice chewy bite!
Instead of leaving all the fat in the soup, which may make the broth a little greasy, all but two tablespoons are removed.
Next sauté the big three: one large onion, a small carrot and one rib of celery. Once the vegetables are crisp tender, add garlic, crushed red pepper flakes and fresh thyme leaves. When the pungent aroma of fresh garlic fills the kitchen, sprinkle in two tablespoons of flour. The flour coats the vegetables which helps to slightly thicken the soup broth.
The other amazing thing that happens is the flavor that develops as the flour darkens and starts sticking to the bottom of the pot. This fond is essential for great flavor. It’s just like making an amazing gravy or sauce. Terrific flavor starts at the bottom of the pot.
Now you have a rich base with all the flavors of bacon, sausage, vegetables and thyme. Add chicken broth and diced potatoes and cook until the potatoes are just tender. Finally, half-and-half and tender kale leaves are stirred into the soup and simmered until heated through.
Don’t forget to add plenty of fresh ground black pepper and serve with a hunk of crusty bread! Dinner is on the table in about an hour – start to finish.
I make a big pot of soup almost every weekend during the winter months.
Having a delicious pot of soup on hand jumpstarts the week making it easy to get dinner on the table when Monday rolls around. We also love to eat leftover soup for lunch throughout the week. If you’re looking for a few new soup recipes to try, check out our archives for Soups, Stews & Chili.
Can you freeze Zuppa Toscana Soup?
Yes, this soup freezes very well! I love that the hearty kale leaves don’t fall apart in the freezer. Thaw the soup overnight in the refrigerator and reheat gently to prevent mushy potatoes.
Is it okay to make Zuppa ahead?
Absolutely! If you’re making this soup to serve later, I recommend that you undercook the potatoes by just a few minutes. Once all ingredients are added to the soup, remove it from the heat and cool before covering and storing in the refrigerator. There’s no need to wilt the kale at the end. It will be wilted enough when rewarmed.
What are the best kind of potatoes to use in this Zuppa recipe?
For this soup I prefer to use a waxy potato. I don’t recommend russet potatoes because they break down easily and may become mushy. That’s why russets are great for mashed or baked potatoes. Fluffy and soft and melt in your mouth delicious but not great for soups, in my opinion.
Waxy potatoes can be added to the soup with the skin on adding even more texture and nutritional benefit. Potato skins actually have more nutrients than the whole rest of the potato. Leave the skin on if you can!
Pick up any waxy white or yellow potato like Yukon Gold. Our local store sells butter potatoes, which fall under the same description of gold fleshed potatoes. A nice red potato will work well in this soup too. It’s all good!
What is the best kind of sausage to use in this soup?
I use sweet or mild Italian sausage for this Zuppa recipe. However, you can use hot Italian sausage if you prefer, but leave out the crushed red pepper flakes that are added with the garlic. There’s just the right amount of zing in this soup without a burning sensation.
Sweet, or mild, Italian pork sausage is pretty much interchangeable with hot Italian sausage, in most recipes. Unless your recipe calls for one or the other, you can be certain it’s all good!
Do you have to use half-and-half in this recipe?
Feel free to use whole milk instead of the half-and-half in our recipe. You can also substitute the half-and-half with one cup whole milk combined with one cup heavy cream, with great results.
What does Zuppa Toscana mean?
This Italian phrase translates to “Tuscan Soup.” The original, or classic Zuppa Toscana, is a meatless vegetable and bean based Italian soup. The enormously popular Olive Garden restaurant chain is credited with creating the creamy, meaty based version similar to the recipe we shared today.
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Zuppa Toscana Soup Recipe
- 4 slices bacon (plus more for garnish if desired)
- 1 ½ pounds sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 small stalk celery, diced
- 1 small carrot, peeled and diced
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, or ½ teaspoon dried thyme or Italian seasoning
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ pounds waxy potatoes, cubed (peeled or unpeeled)
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (32oz or 907g)
- 2 cups half-and-half, or whole milk
- 4 cups packed kale leaves
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- In a large Dutch oven, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Once cooled, chop the bacon into bite size pieces and set aside. Add the sausage to the bacon grease and cook, breaking into clumps with a spoon, until no longer pink. Remove from the pot and drain, reserving drippings.
- Return 2 tablespoons of drippings back into the pot. Add the onion, celery, carrot and salt. Sauté the vegetables until crisp tender, 3 or 4 minutes. Add the garlic, crushed red pepper and thyme. Sauté until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Sprinkle flour over the vegetables and cook, stirring constantly, until the flour forms a fond on the bottom of the pan and starts to brown, about 3 to 4 minutes.
- Add the potatoes and broth to the pot. Stir to combine scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Bring the soup to a boil over medium high, then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are just tender, about 10 minutes.
- Add the half-and-half, kale, black pepper, crumbled sausage and chopped bacon. Cook gently, stirring occasionally, until the kale is softened and the soup is heated through. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed.
- Serve immediately garnished with chopped parsley, extra crumbled bacon, and black pepper, if desired. We enjoy this soup with hunks of nice crusty bread for dipping.
- Take care when adding salt to the soup as bacon is often salty enough.
- We prefer waxy potatoes for this soup and leave the peel on. Russet potatoes seem to break down too quickly and become mushy more than white or butter potatoes. Red potatoes would also be good in this recipe.
Here are a few more Italian inspired soups you might enjoy:
Creamy Chicken Gnocchi Soup – with a silky, creamy broth, tender chunks of chicken, loads of fresh spinach and pillowy soft gnocchi. This soup is comforting, easy to make and super satisfying!
Classic Minestrone Soup – Our fresh Minestrone Soup is full of healthy legumes, green leafy vegetables, plenty of Italian herbs, a handful of pasta, and wonderfully rich tomatoey broth.
Pasta e Fagioli Soup Recipe – a deliciously hearty, stew-like soup loaded with pasta, beans and Italian sausage. Every bite is rich with flavor and plenty of vegetables.
Looking for a few more Italian soup recipes?
- I can never resist of bowl of Chicken Meatball Italian Wedding Soup. Tender meatballs in a bowl of rich, flavorful broth is always a great idea!
- Our Tortellini Tomato Soup recipe has it all with cheese filled pasta in a robust, thick tomato broth. Serve with grilled cheese bites for a hearty and satisfying meal.
- Roasted Tomato Basil Soup is one of the best ways to use ripe summer tomatoes. Loaded with flavor from the oven roasted tomatoes and onions. Delicious!