Loaded with bacon, sausage, potatoes and kale, this Whole30 Zuppa Toscana is a healthy and delicious way to welcome the colder months. Not only is it delicious and super hearty, but it’s also incredibly easy to make and will only take you a little over 30 minutes. The best part is this recipe serves 6 to 8 so you’ll likely have some leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day! And believe me when I tell you that this soup tastes even better the next day!
You may already be familiar with Zuppa Toscana. If not, it’s a popular menu item at the Olive Garden. Many years ago, there were a few Olive Garden locations in Toronto, but they’ve long since closed down. I think I ate there once after a swim meet as a child (I swam competitively for about 7 years), but I can’t imagine having ordered anything with vegetables as a kid! Especially with pasta on the menu!
When I came across a copycat recipe for Zuppa Toscana on the ol’ Google, I had to give it a try. I mean, look at it, it’s a thing of beauty! But I really wanted to lighten it up a bit and replace the heavy cream with something Whole30-friendly.
This Whole30 Zuppa Toscana is actually fairly similar to my Sausage, Kale and Potato Soup, but with a few minor differences. I should say that both are incredibly delicious so if you can’t decide between one and the other, just flip a coin! The Sausage Kale and Potato Soup includes additional aromatics like carrot, leeks, and celery as well as fresh herbs, like parsley and thyme. It also includes paprika for colour. It’s definitely a more robust soup and packs a bit more nutrition, which is great but can also be a bit trickier when it comes to feeding picky kids (or adults for that matter).
Whole30 Zuppa Toscana, on the other hand, is a bit simpler in terms of ingredients. There are less vegetables (a bit of an easier sell) and it looks creamy thanks to the sneaky addition of some coconut milk for colour, richness and a velvety texture. The coconut milk is a substitute for the heavy cream in the original Olive Garden recipe and keeps things Whole30-friendly.
And since I know you’ll ask, the answer is no, you can’t taste the coconut milk! Not even in the slightest! The secret is to cook and reduce the coconut milk with the onions, garlic and spices BEFORE adding the chicken stock. Reducing the coconut milk actually mellows out the flavour, as opposed to adding it at the end as you would a dairy-based cream.
If, however, you like the taste of coconut milk, you can simply add it at towards the end of the cooking process to finish the soup. You’re the boss, applesauce!
One last note: I used sweet Italian sausages in casings because it’s very difficult to find Whole30 compliant bulk sausage meat in Toronto. Feel free to use any compliant sausage you like but I think Italian ones taste best in this soup. I also like adding fennel seeds and dried red chili flakes, which are both commonly used in Italian sausages, to bump up the flavours already present. Depending on the sausage you use, you may not need to do this. For best results, fry a small piece of sausage before making the soup and give it a taste. If you feel like it can do with a bit more fennel or chili flakes, add them individually. Otherwise, just use the sausages as they come.
Whole30 Zuppa Toscana
- 4 strips Whole30 compliant bacon thinly sliced
- 1 pound Whole30 compliant sweet or hot Italian sausage pork, chicken, or turkey, casings removed
- 1 large yellow onion diced
- 4 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon dried red chili flakes optional
- 1 teaspoon dried fennel seeds optional
- ½ cup full-fat coconut milk
- 1.5 pounds russet potatoes diced (substitute red or yellow potatoes)
- 1 quart Whole30 compliant chicken stock
- 2 bay leaves dried or fresh
- 1 head Tuscan kale, thinly sliced into ribbons also called cavolo nero, lacinato kale, dino kale or black kale
- kosher salt and freshly-cracked black pepper to taste
- Add bacon to a cold stock pot and set over medium-high heat. Cook the bacon, stirring regularly, until browned, about 6 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towel and set aside.
- Add the sausages and use a wooden or metal spoon to break them into small pieces. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sausages are browned and cooked through, about 7 minutes. Transfer the sausage to a bowl and set aside.
- Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the fat in the pot. If necessary, add extra-virgin olive oil. Add the onions and cook, scraping any brown bits on the bottom of the pot, until slightly soft and translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, chili flakes and fennel seeds, if using, and cook an additional 60 seconds. Add the coconut milk and cook until reduced by ¼ in volume, about 2 minutes.
- Add the chicken stock, potatoes and bay leaves. Bring the liquid to a boil, lower the heat to medium-low and cover partly with a lid. Cook until the potatoes are fork tender, about 15 minutes.
- Add the kale and cook until significantly wilted, about 3 minutes. If necessary, add water or chicken stock to cover. Return the cooked sausage to the pot and stir through. Let the soup simmer for 5 minutes for the flavours to come together. Taste for seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper as desired.
- Ladle the soup into individual serving bowls and garnish with the reserved bacon.