Vegetarian Zuppa Toscana Recipe
Vegetarian Potato and Kale Soup
This vegetarian potato and kale soup is not only the best soup that I have ever made, but it’s also the best soup I have ever eaten. It’s not only incredibly tasty and satisfying but it’s also very healthy for you as well. If you’ve tried the non-vegetarian version (the one with Italian sausage), I promise that this version is better and that you won’t even notice that it’s meatless. Plus, it’s simple to throw in a handful of sausage if you really need to, but first do yourself a favor and try zuppa Toscana with no meat and judge for yourself.
I live on a sailboat that doesn’t have any refrigeration so I spend a lot of time coming up with new recipes to make use of whatever I have left in the galley before it goes bad. One afternoon, I found myself with a few potatoes and some kale, along with some shallots and bell peppers. I had to admit that I was not immediately inspired and stood there looking at these items for some minutes before I had the Eureka! moment.
I remembered that Olive Garden, one of my wife’s favorite restaurants, makes a pretty good traditional zuppa Toscana soup with potatoes and kale. Okay, so that’s what I’d make. On a boat, you cook with what you have, unless you want to take a long kayak ride to shore and a long walk to the grocery store and back. I was still pretty skeptical because I couldn’t really imagine this meal coming together as something really flavorful and satisfying, but I was wrong.
- Italian Sausage (if you must)
- Get a pot that is large enough to hold all of the ingredients.
- Clean the potatoes and peel them if you like but I never bother since you will be slicing them pretty thin and the skin will not detract at all from the flavor or texture. Additionally, many studies advise that much of the protein and mineral matter in potatoes exists in the outside layers so peeling them actually reduces their health benefits.
- Slice the potatoes into thin discs. The thinner the discs, the quicker they will cook and the more flavor from the other ingredients they will absorb but also the more likely they will be to fall apart so keep this in mind. You want to maintain the integrity of the potato slices as much as possible and keep them whole. You might also want to cut the discs into smaller pieces so that they become ‘bite-sized’ and will fit easily on your spoon and into your mouth.
- Put the potato pieces into the pot.
- Take your kale and cut the spine or thick, central vein, out of the kale leafs because most people find it too tough to enjoy eating it, no matter how long it is cooked. Discard the spine or put it aside to make vegetable stock at another time.
- Chop up the kale or tear it into pieces with your hands, following the same advice to make each piece bite-sized.
- Put the kale into the pot along with the potato pieces. Kale is pretty tough stuff and I have never managed to over-boil it so that’s why it goes into the pot first. You could substitute spinach for kale.
- Fill the pot with broth, stock or water until all of the ingredients are covered. Using plain water is fine but it dilutes the flavor of the ingredients whereas stock or broth adds to the overall flavor of the dish. I make my own vegetable stock from scraps but you can buy it in either liquid form or as a powder. I find the powdered stuff a little too salty for me but it’s a personal choice and you should use whatever your palate enjoys the most.
- Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
- Add garlic to taste. Squish it, smash it, dice it or slice it into super thin slivers, it’s up to you. Add a clove of garlic and then, after about five minutes, taste the dish to see if you want to add more.
- If you have used stock then you will probably not have to add salt but might want to add pepper to taste.
- Add some diced bell pepper to the pot. I like to roast bell pepper because it brings out the flavors and adds an almost smoky quality to it but you can just sweat it a little in a pan if you prefer. To sweat a bell pepper, first cut out the seeds and the veins. Then throw it into a pan with some hot oil and cook until it softens.
- Add chickpeas. If you use canned chickpeas they can go straight into the pot after you drain them. If you are using dried chickpeas then you will need to cook them before adding them. Chickpeas are not traditionally included in this meal but, since I had some left over and because I love them, in they went. Adding chickpeas also adds to the body and texture of the soup, giving it some crunch and transforming it into more of a meal than just an appetizer.
- Dice up some shallots and toss them in too.
- Cook for about 10-15 minutes, depending upon how big your potato pieces are. Test your potatoes with a fork periodically and when they are becoming soft enough for your fork to stark piercing, add some milk. I have used both 1% milk and unsweetened, canned milk with great success.
- When your fork can easily go into the potatoes, your Zuppa Toscana is done and ready to eat. Serve hot and add some grated cheese if you like. You can also add a few dried chili flakes for a little zing. Bon Appetite!
Potato Kale Soup
The other thing that I really like about this meal is its convenience. It’s a one-pot meal, meaning that everything is cooked in the same cooking pot, and that’s a real benefit when you’re preparing a meal in a tiny sailboat galley. One-pot meals are also a great advantage even when you’re cooking at home in a full sized kitchen because it means less dishes to clean up afterwards.
How to Make Homemade Vegetable Stock
Vegetable stock can literally be made from any scraps you have in the kitchen. All that stuff you would normally throw in the trash, put it in a pot of water and boil it. It's that simple. When it's boiled into a flavorful liquid, strain it and it's ready for use. You can freeze it and use it whenever you need to.
Making stock can actually be fun. Every time I'm filling the pot with leftover vegetables, it reminds me of the shows I watched as a kid where the mad scientist is concocting some new creation in his laboratory. You might chuckle at that, but it will happen to you too, you just watch and see. You may start to develop and test your own secret recipes.
For me, I have convinced myself that adding bell peppers to a stock results in the best flavors. I also like adding paprika. If I'm not careful, I find myself starting to make vegetable soup when the real goal is to find a good use for the vegetable scraps I would otherwise throw out.
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© 2012 Dale Anderson