Zuppa Toscana is a one pot, satisfying, balanced bowl of warm comfort food that is perfect on a night when, “Baby it’s cold outside”! Basil pesto and fresh lemon juice adds a bright and fragrant citrus note to the creamy broth, while providing balance to the rich and hearty sweet Italian sausage.
This recipe crossed my path a few weeks ago when one of my favorite bloggers, Half Baked Harvest, shared it to her website. ( Heyyyyy, Tieghan!!) Her recipe looked like everything I was craving at that moment, so as usual I followed my food lovin’ instincts and set out to make it right away!
Intrestingly enough, I have never had Zuppa Toscana before (SHOCKING!) so of course I googled to compare what other recipes out there had going on.
Apparently there is is HUGE following for the “Olive Garden Copy Cat” Zuppa Toscana recipe. Has anyone ordered this from Olive Garden? Honestly, I haven’t stepped foot in an Olive Garden since I was a broke college student, 18 years ago, looking for a way to make 2 meals out of one. Thank God for that “Never Ending” Soup-Salad-Breadstick deal helping me gain that freshman 15 faster than I care to admit.
So while I am not familiar with the Olive Garden’s Zuppa Toscana recipe, I can still get idea of flavor direction by reading those other recipes out there and right off the bat I see one glaring mistake that I didn’t see with THIS recipe.
So here is why THIS recipe is the “one” … two words: balanced acidity!
Zuppa Toscana is rich! The recipe starts with bacon fat, then uses pork Italian sausage, a savory chicken stock is used to carry the load, and later full fat milk is added to the broth. And while all these ingredients are completely delectable and arguably the supreme provider of all the lip smacking flavor this hearty soup possesses, in terms of culinary facts : when you have all that fat, there NEEDS to be an acidity present to provide BALANCE!
This Zuppa Toscana recipe has two unique and non negotiable ingredients from the other recipes that I’ve seen : fresh squeezed lemon juice and basil pesto. The lemon juice cuts the flavorful fat that meat and milk add. The basil pesto, adds herbal fragrance which is moderately acidic but more so present to add depth of flavor. When I taste this Zuppa Toscana recipe, it is those two flavors that really stand out to me and steal the show. Each bite is addictive and when YOU make this recipe, you will see why!!
PRO TIP SIDENOTE: This concept of balancing acid and fat is a fundamental basic of understanding “how to cook” and how to use ingredients to work together in creating a palate pleasing meal. There is an utterly mesmerizing four part series on NETFLIX called, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat featuring chef Samin Nosrat. She outlines, thorough her captivating worldwide travels, those four basic elements of cooking and how to harness each one to work together to be an excellent chef. If you haven’t seen – I highly recommend!
HOW TO MAKE ZUPPA TOSCANA WITH BASIL PESTO & LEMON BROTH:
Start by heating a large soup pot over medium heat. When pot is nice and hot (meat will sizzle) add the bacon slices. Honestly, I don’t see a reason to chop the bacon. All this does is give you extra washing, as you would need to sanitize knife and cutting board afterward. It should take about 5-7 minutes to get slices nice and crispy all over. Remove the bacon and set aside to cool. Later you will chop into bits and use as a garnish over finished servings.
Drain all but about 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat from the pot. Use the remaining bacon fat to brown the onions and ground Italian sausage. I used a sweet Italian sausage, but spicy would also work. You could even use chicken sausage if preferred!
Next, add the garlic, celery, and potatoes, and cook just 2 minutes. Then the chicken broth, water, basil pesto, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt and pepper. You can always add more to adjust at the end, so be a little conservative with the salt and pepper in the beginning!
Let the soup simmer over medium heat for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender and broth flavor has been developed.
The final step will be to stir in the kale, milk, and parmesan. Cook until the kale is wilted, less than 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and ladle into portions.
Top with crispy bacon crumbles and freshly grated Parmesan, Asiago or Romano cheese overtop!
Although this recipe is made on the stovetop, it can be easily adapted to make in the Crock Pot (SLOW COOKER) or the Instant Pot (PRESSURE COOKER) See Note Section in recipe below .
Zuppa Toscana with Basil Pesto & Lemon Broth
- 4 slices bacon
- 1 pound ground Italian sausage sweet
- 1 yellow onion chopped
- 4 cloves garlic minced or grated
- 2 ribs celery chopped
- 4 yukon gold potatoes peeled and chopped
- 4 cups low sodium chicken broth
- 2 cups water
- 1/3 cup basil pesto homemade or store-bought
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
- kosher salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 bunch curly kale stems removed, roughly chopped
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- Cook the bacon slices in a large pot set over medium heat until crisp, about 5-7 minutes.
- Remove the bacon and discard all but 1 tbsp of bacon fat. When cooled, chop into bits and reserve for garnish.
- Add the sausage and onions and brown for about 8 minutes.
- Add the garlic, celery, and potatoes, and cook just 2 minutes.
- Add the broth, water, pesto, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.
- Simmer over medium heat for 20 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and broth flavor has been developed.
- Stir in the kale, milk, and parmesan. Cook until the kale is wilted, less than 5 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and ladle into portions.
- Top with crispy bacon crumbles and parmesan cheese.