Who doesn't love a good restaurant copycat recipe you can make at home? This Italian-inspired soup was user-submitted and touted as "Better than Olive Garden" and therefore deserves to be tested! Zuppa Toscana is not from our trusty brands but I decided to make this soup for a variety of reasons: 1. My oven is broken. I set it up to self-clean and a week later it is still locked. Who has time to deal with that right now? 2. You can make this in your slow-cooker and while I'm chasing a toddler and 8 months pregnant - this was a total selling point. 3. This recipe has over 52 thousand shares on the recipe page which means it's got to be worth a try. So here we go!
I gathered my ingredients which are simple enough. Flour, minced garlic, chicken broth, potatoes, and onion are pantry staples in my house so all I had to grab at the store was kale, heavy cream, bacon and sausage. I used a smoked chicken sausage but feel free to use your favorite. Spicy pork sausage would be great in this dish but I just added red pepper flakes and cayenne to get the heat level I wanted.
It's always tempting to skip a step when using the slow-cooker and dump everything in but browning the sausage first is a MUST. I've learned the hard way that it changes the flavor and texture of meats like sausage and ground beef (in a bad way) when you just throw it in!
I chopped the veggies into bite size pieces and added them to the slow-cooker along with the cooked sausage, broth, and garlic. I added just about a 3/4 a cup of water to make sure everything was covered with liquid and set the cooker to high. If you have a little more time, I would suggest cooking on low for 5-6 hours but I needed to get it done in about 3.5 hours. I'd like to say I walked off and forgot about this soup for the day but the aroma in my house was so yummy I couldn't stop thinking about it.
About 30 minutes before serving, I added the heavy whipping cream/flour mixture and destemmed kale to the slow-cooker. Next time I might wait to add the kale until right before serving so it retains more color and texture. The cream and flour do a good job of thickening the soup and giving it richness.
After seasoning to taste, I topped the soup with chopped bacon and served it with a large Italian roll, perfect for sopping. This recipe was hearty, flavorful and made a TON! My husband had seconds for dinner and we both took a big bowl of leftovers to work with us the next day, leaving still more at home to be frozen. I've never had Olive Garden's version of Zuppa Toscana but if it's as yummy as this was, I'm sold. Sign me up for unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks please!