Toscana Soup

Ahhhhhhh, soups.  I loves ’em.  Today we will be playing with one that was always in great demand as the soup of the day when we had the restaurant.  And is frequently requested by both kids here at home.  When I say this is a simple soup, what you see in the photo above is exactly what you’re going to need for this particular version (barring water.  I did not photograph water).

Ingredients:

2 lbs ground sausage
2 TBl olive oil
1 onion
5 cloves garlic
4 russet potatoes
3 qt water (will discuss other options below)
1/4 C Chicken Base
1 Bunch Kale
1 1/2 tsp white pepper
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 C water
1/4 C heaping corn starch
2/3 C heavy cream
salt on hand in case you need it

Now for your photographic instructions (simple instructions at the end of the post):

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Start with 2 lbs of ground sausage.  Use the best quality sausage that you can.  The super cheap stuff from the grocery cooks down to mostly grease and will not make for a good soup.  This does NOT get drained off.  Today I used a combo of hot Italian and mild Italian.  Honestly, I use whatever blends I have on hand — just not the maple one.  Maple sausage and Toscana soup = blech
Place your sausage in a nice big stock pot (remember you’re using nearly a gallon of liquid PLUS all the solids — plan accordingly) and put heat on medium.  Not med-high, not med-low… right smack dab in the middle.  Medium.

Now you need to decide what you would like to do with your onion.  If you do not have a food processor, or you prefer to dice by hand, then good on ya.  I am lazy.  And I want food.  And since in this particular dish the onions are only a supporting character, I food processored that sucker.
No matter how you get it done, once it is, add it to your pot
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Add your olive oil at this point also.  Stir well, mushing up the sausage and letting the two brown up and sweat out.

Technicality choice time again:  Do you slice your potatoes by hand?  Or do you put your slicing attachment on your food processor and whirr those things into submission?  Give you 3 guesses as to which I did.  Now, no proper chef in the world is going to tell you to do this.  They’re all about knife cuts and perfection.  I am not.  I am all about eating.  If you have a food processor (or a salad shooter) and want to slice your halved potatoes that way, do so.  To my knowledge you will not be feeding this to royalty.  The half of potato on the left took just as much time to do as the other 5 and a half potatoes in the food processor (yeah, recipe says 4 potatoes, mine were small.  I adapted and used 6).  The whole idea here is ease in the kitchen, not signing you up for drudgery.  If you have tools, use them.  That’s what our big ol’ human brains are best at.
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While we were playing with potatoes, and hopefully glancing at our pot and giving it a stir every once and again… this is what you should have staring back at you.  Onions are nice and translucent, and the sausage is cooked but not completely browned.  ’tis okay, it’s got a few minutes to go because…
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It’s time to add the garlic.  Once again, tools, people!  If you have them, use them.  I have 2 garlic presses because:  a) I use a lot of garlic, and b) I got tired of the silly thing being in the dishwasher when I needed it again.  So, either peel your garlic cloves or if you want to save time, you can buy pre-peeled garlic cloves.  But get whole garlic, not the pre-minced stuff.  It loses a lot of flavor there.  And then either chop it by hand super-fine or do like I do and simply press it right into your pot.  Stir well.  Let cook for 1-2 minutes
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While that’s simmering, go ahead and get your water ready.  I obviously needed a bigger measuring cup for this, but you’re going for 12 C (a.k.a. 3 qt)
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Water and potatoes added
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Okay, so decision time again.  For this batch of soup I used 3 qt water and 1/4 C (4 TBl) organic chicken base.  Sometimes I use 3 qt of homemade chicken stock and just use salt.  You can do either.  Obviously, the homemade stock is going to have a higher nutrient profile than plain water and salty chicken glop, but the decision is yours.  Or should I say, the decision rests with what you have on hand at the time.  Do not be intimidated.  Adapt.  Recipes are rarely hard and fast.  Modify as needed.

The pot is simmering, basically just cooking down your potatoes now, so we’re going to swing over and prep our kale now.  I know some of you are thinking, “ew, kale!”  But trust me when I say this doesn’t taste like your salad did.  I’m not particularly fond of cooked cruciferous veggies as a general rule.  Don’t like the smell and don’t like the taste.  Kale in this soup is a different ballgame.  It doesn’t smell bad or taste awful.  It’s YUMMY.  So, preparing it.  See that stem running up through the middle?  It’s bitter and not tasty.  We need to make it go away.  In the first picture, you’ll see that the leafy part kind of drapes down from the stem; grab those leaves with your thumb and first two fingers and just yank them off.  You’ll be left with a pile of greenery and a nekkid stem.

On the left we have our pile of leaves.  Give them a rough chop.  Seriously, just take your knife to that pile in a grid-like fashion.  On the right is the approximate size and general shape you will end up with.
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Add the chopped kale to the pot.  At this time, go ahead and add the red pepper flakes and white pepper and stir it all in.  Some peeps prefer to add the kale at the last minute and just let it wilt down.  I like mine well and truly cooked so I add it while my potatoes are still trying to soften up.  From the time you added the potatoes you’re looking at about a 40 minute simmer time.

Once that 40 minutes is up, we’re going to prepare our corn starch slurry.  1 C water and one heaping 1/4 C of corn starch.  You only want to thicken your soup just a bit, not turn it into gravy.  Whisk together.
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Add to your pot and stir.  Corn starch is a quick and easy thickener.  Thickens up at lower temps than flour thickeners and much quicker.  There is no floury taste to cook off.

Measure out your 2/3 C heavy cream, add to the pot and stir.  As soon as it starts bubbling again, turn off your stove.
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And serve.

Quick recap:
1)  I’m lazy.  If I have a tool to do the job, I will absolutely use it to make my job faster and more efficient.
2)  Kale doesn’t taste like cooked cabbage in Toscana soup.  Try it.
3)  Yes, soup is a full meal.  Even better with butter.  You might need bread for the butter, but… butter.  This particular soup has fat, protein, and carbs.  Has a lovely green veggie in there, as well as onion and garlic which are just good for you.  Depending on the quality of ingredients you started with, it can actually be a very nutritious meal.  I used organic kale (though fresh, local kale would have a higher nutrient content as it wouldn’t be as old as what you get in the grocery), organic potatoes — with the skin on.  You can peel them if you’d like, but so many of the vitamins live in the skin, I usually just give ’em a scrub and go from there.  The sausage I used was made from pigs that live the way pigs are supposed to live, not holed up in a “barn” somewhere eating GMO corn and soy, but outside rooting around and doing piggy things.  The only downfall to today’s soup would be my skimping on not making chicken stock first, so I sold out and used base.  I can live with that as I pat my full tummy and toddle off to bed.

Quick instructions:

Add 2 lbs ground sausage to a good sized stock pot.  Dice or food processor one whole onion (white or yellow, or whatever you have on hand), add to pot along with 2 TBl olive oil, and stir it all up really well.  Let it brown/sweat while you slice your potatoes.  Cut your potatoes in half and either slice them by hand or use your handy dandy slicer attachment on your food processor and be done in seconds.
Peel and press 5 cloves of garlic into the pot with the sausage & onions.  Let that cook for 1-2 minutes while you prepare your water.
Add 3 qt water and potatoes to the pot.  Add 1/4 c chicken base.  Alternatively, use 3 qt of chicken stock, no chicken base, and salt your soup accordingly.
Prepare your kale by savagely ripping the leaves from the bitter stems and tossing the stems away.  Roughly chop your pile of greenery.
Add the violated kale leaves to the now simmering pot, along with the crushed red pepper and the white pepper.  Stir well.  Allow to simmer about 40 minutes from the time you added the potatoes.
Prepare your corn starch slurry by measuring out 1 C water and whisking in a heaping 1/4 C of corn starch.  Add to pot, stirring well.
Measure out 2/3 C heavy cream… and add to pot, stirring well.
Turn off stove and serve.  Preferably with butter.

Happy Eating!!

 

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