Rustic Italian Sausage, Potato and Kale Soup

I have to admit that this recipe came about because I was copying the flavors of a soup that they have at The Olive Garden. (Though, mine is better.)

Don’t get me wrong–I generally dislike The Olive Garden, and find most of their foods to be quasi-Italian at best, and downright crap at worst. But, the one thing I like to eat there, and will eat if I am forced to go there by circumstance (a friend really wants to go, in other words) I can order the endless bowls of this soup and be happy. They call it, “Zuppa Toscana,” though, not knowing if this soup has diddly to do with Tuscany, I call it, “Rustic Italian Sausage, Potato and Kale Soup.”

It is a great peasant dish, full of flavor and nicely filling without being overly heavy. As we had it the other night, served with a fresh mixed greens salad and a full-bodied whole-wheat bread, it is a really good supper that bridges the seasons of winter and spring.

The farmer’s market here in Athens, Ohio, is still filled with cool weather greens that many associate with fall and winter, such as kale, collards and chard. A few folks have potatoes that have been kept in a root cellar all winter, along with squash, turnips and beets. These wintery vegetables are starting to give way, however, to harbingers of spring: ramps, and green garlic, for example.

Ramps, are a foraged wild member of the leek, onion and garlic family, and they are plentiful here in the hills and valleys of Athens county. They grow all through the Applachian mountain range, from Georgia all the way up to Canada, and they bring a sometimes biting, sometimes sweet savor of garlic to everything they are cooked in. (You can see the greens in the photo above–they look like little verdant spearheads.)

Green garlic is the new shoots of hardneck garlic, and can be eaten completely, from the tiny white bulbs at the bottom to the last of the kelly green leaves. More delicately scented than ramps, green garlic looks like scallions, but has the sweet, seductive flavor of garlic at its finest.

When I picked up bundles of green garlic and a handful of ramp leaves at one end of the market, and then fell in love with the tender blue-green, curly, lacy bunches of kale at the other end, I knew what I had to make. My soup.

So, some potatoes were aquired, and off home we frolicked, with every intention of making soup in my thoughts.

There was only one wee problem.

I had no Italian sausage.

But it was only a small problem, as I -did- have ground pork in the freezer, and herbs and spices in my cabinet. Certain that I could make a perfectly good Italian sausage through the application of salt, herbs and spices to the ground meat, I pulled it out to thaw, and started rinsing greens.

Italian sausage is simple to make: the main flavorings are fennel seed, salt, a mixture of rosemary, thyme, oregano, and basil, and some optional red pepper flakes. Most people also add black pepper, but considering my newly found sensitivity to the spice, I prudently left it out of the recipe.

Out of the tablespoon and a half of fennel seed I added to the pound of ground pork, I ground one tablespoon of it finely, and simply cracked and left partially whole, the other half tablespoon, to give the sausage texture. I added about a teaspoon of oregano, two teaspoons of basil, 1/2 teaspoon of rosemary and 1/2 teaspoon of thyme, along with about two teaspoons of salt. The amount of red pepper flakes I added might have been more than most would use, but I like spicy sausage, so I added a full tablespoon of medium-hot pepper flakes. This also helped make up for the lack of black pepper in the entire dish.

Putting the sausage together was simplicity itself; there is no need for casing as I would have taken whatever sausage I bought out of the casings to cook it anyway. I simply squished the spices into the meat with my fingers, blending it together until it was very well mixed.

The rest of the cooking was simple, and the results were quite flavorful. The only non-local ingredients were the dried herbs (though some were from my garden last year), spices, olive oil, an onion, flour, and the chicken broth. The potatoes, green garlic, pork, kale, ramps, milk and cream all came from Ohio, with most of it coming from within 100 miles of Athens.

The greens in the salad we ate were from Athens, and the flowers used to garnish it came from my own porchboxes. The bread was an Italian olive oil loaf from the local food outlet, “The Village Bakery, ” which rests down at the foot of the hill on top of which our house perches.

It made a wonderful lighly filling dinner, though I have to admit, that it is even better after having rested for a day in the refrigerator, and has made an excellent lunch, sans bread and salad.

Rustic Italian Sausage, Potato and Kale Soup


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium sized onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1 pound bulk Italian sausage, or sausages removed from their casings
8 stalks of green garlic, bulbs and light green parts thinly sliced, darker tops reserved
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon dried powdered rosemary
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
3/4 cup dry white wine or sherry
2 quarts chicken broth or stock
4 medium potatoes, cut into quarters lengthwise, then sliced into 1/4 inch slices
1/2 cup milk
1/2 pint heavy cream
2 tablespoons olive oil (optional)
2 tablespoons flour (optional)
1/2 pound kale leaves and thin stems, cut into ribbons about 1/2 inch wide
ramp leaves cut into 1/4 inch ribbons
reserved green garlic tops, sliced thinly
salt (and black pepper, if you can) to taste


Heat first amount of olive oil in a heavy bottomed soup pot until hot. Add onions and sausage, and cook, stirring to break up sausage and to keep onions from burning. Cook until sausage is browned and the onions are a deep golden-reddish color.

Add the green garlic slices, and herbs and stir, cooking until they become quite fragrant: about 2 minutes.

Add wine or sherry and cook off alcohol, stirring.

Add broth when the alcohol is cooked out of the wine. Add the potatoes and the milk.

When potatoes are tender, add cream.

If you would like a thicker soup, in a separate heavy bottomed frying pan, heat second quantity of olive oil. When it is hot, add flour and stir until it forms a paste. Cook, stirring on medium heat for three minutes. Add half of this roux to the boiling soup, and stir until it thickens. If it is still not as thick as you want, add the rest of the roux and stir until it thickens.

Add the ribbons of kale, ramps and green garlic tops, and cook, stirring, until greens wilt. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve hot.


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  1. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha, i looked at the title of this post and thought to myself “Hey they have something like that at the Olive Garden…i haven’t been able to get it to taste good when i try to mack it myself, maybe this will be something similar!” 🙂 Glad to see i’m not the only one who likes the soup.

    Thanks for writing, it always brightens my day. 🙂 And helps to expand my poor vigilante cooking ideas.

    Comment by Donius — May 2, 2006 #

  2. I don’t mind the Olive Garden’s salad. But um… yeah, that’s it. Oh, and they used to make a nice bloody mary, with lots of garnishes.

    All that talk of sausage makes me miss home. I grew up in Steubenville, not very far from Athens. It’s got a few places that sell the most wonderful Italian sausage. My favorite is Capri’s Sausage & Meatballs – it’s the best, in part because sausage and meatballs are all. they. make. You can get sausage, or meatballs. You can get a sausage sandwich, or a meatball sandwich, with sauce, cheese or onions/peppers. No sides, no fuss. Their menu is maybe five lines long. I love it. It’s simple and delicious.

    Comment by Bomboniera — May 2, 2006 #

  3. Since I got a lot of the same things you did at the market, I’m going to make this tomorrow; except I think I’ll sub kielbasi–we have a great place that makes and smokes their own, with no nitrates right in the neighborhood.

    Comment by lucette — May 2, 2006 #

  4. I’ve noticed that the more I eat good food at home, the pickier I get about restaurants. I loved Olive Garden in high school and college, but these days I look at the prices and think “naah, I can make a better pasta dish myself in about the same time that I’d have to wait to be seated”.

    Though if they still had the chocolate mousse pie on the menu, I’d go just for that. I miss that pie; I still wonder if it had cinnamon in the crust.

    Comment by Castiron — May 3, 2006 #

  5. Donius, I am happy to brighten your day!

    Let me know if my version of the recipe hits the spot for you or not. I personally like this one better, but then, it has now been years since I had the Olive Garden version.

    Bomboniera–I love good sausage…and homemade or handmade is the best of all!

    Lucette: ooh, that version sounds great, too. Let me know how it goes.

    Castiron–you have learned the peril of becoming a good cook. I am the same way about most places–I am reluctant to give them money, because I can so often cook it faster, cheaper and better at home.

    The same has happened to my friends. Either they can cook it better, or they can come to my house and I will cook it better.

    I never had that pie–but I had some sort of lemon strawberry mousse pie there that was good.

    Comment by Barbara — May 3, 2006 #

  6. Haven’t had that soup – don’t think I’ve had any of them at Olive Garden, but yours looks delicious!

    Comment by Cate O'Malley — May 3, 2006 #

  7. The recipe sounds delicious, will have to give it a try.

    Comment by Jane — May 6, 2006 #

  8. WOW!! I had the same experience, tried (at the Olive Garden, which I hate) a taste of “Zuppa Toscana” and it was great! I had to call out the cook to find out what the greens were and was totally surprised to find out it was KALE, which I thought I hated.

    Anyway, I want to try your recipe, but I don’t want to make enough for an invading Army, as your pile of ingredients seems to be for. How should I break that down to something for four (4) people?

    Thanks, glad to find others who think the same.


    Comment by Bob Lombardo — May 14, 2006 #

  9. Hello, Bob, and welcome!

    Just cut the quantities in half to make it for four servings. This one produced about eight servings, which is typical of my pots of soup. I always make extra, because the leftovers taste so wonderful the next day!

    Comment by Barbara — May 14, 2006 #

  10. i`m from steubenville. do you really like capris? remember joes on 4th street how about johns on market by the bridge we have a new place now called cardinos. it is JUNK!!! ive made alot of sausage and meatballs , and have been told they are awesome. i`m a little old school, and dont think capri comes close to what good used to be.. just curious for opinions. seems like as generations change, so does the meaning of “good” food young people now are so used to fast food that they dont know the difference between ragu and homemade!

    Comment by gene — October 19, 2006 #

  11. Italian? Google for Caldo Verde, it’s a Portuguese dish.

    Comment by Jason — December 1, 2006 #

  12. i was surfing the net trying to find a recipe close to the soup at Olive Garden and stopped here because it looked most similar to the one they sreve. Thanks for this recipe!!!!!!!

    Comment by Tracy Glaze — August 1, 2007 #

  13. This was great and easy! Thanks.

    Comment by A, — June 29, 2008 #

  14. This is a great recipe! A little spicy for my taste, but still very good. (Next time I’ll cut the amount of red pepper in half)

    I substituted green onion and garlic instead of green garlic, because my grocer didn’t have green garlic; Worked out great.

    I also halved and sliced my potatoes (instead of quartered and sliced), to make my soup chunkier.

    Great recipe.

    Comment by Will — April 4, 2009 #

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