While living in Binghamton, I attended the opera with a dear friend from New Haven and her dear friend Laura who became my friend as well. At over 90 years old, Laura is a font of wisdom, humor, and advice.
And her favorite restaurant? The Olive Garden. Particularly for their fettuccine alfredo. Every Sunday after the opera (and usually every Saturday before it) the three of us drank wine, shared stories, and ate (and ate, and ate) at the Olive Garden. It became a ritual that I miss now that I am away.
If you are looking for something on the Olive Garden menu as luxurious as fettuccine alfredo, but not as rich or heavy, you could try my favorite: the Zuppa Toscana. Or you could make it yourself! It’s easy, I promise. Plus, it is the perfect recipe for sharing my best soup secret. It takes three steps:
- Buy a wedge of sharp cheese (Parmesan, Romano, Grana Padano, or the like).
- Freshly grate this cheese over everything (especially pasta).
- Save the rind or the “butt” of the cheese wedge.
This rind will make your soup broths flavorful and rich! It Italy, supermarkets actually save the rinds of their cheeses (from selling freshly grated/shaved cheese) and sell 4 rinds for about a euro total. I’m not sure if this happens in the U.S. (perhaps at specialty cheese shops) but I will look when I return. But if they don’t, who cares? This is a somewhat specialty ingredient that is easy to make yourself. Like the soup. Enjoy!
- 2 links fresh Italian sausage (uncooked), chopped
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 1 garlic cloved, minced
- 2 small-medium potatoes, washed and sliced (I like to leave on the skins for the nutrients)
- 4-6 cups chicken or vegetable broth (use the higher amount if you like a lot of broth, like I do!)
- salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste
- cheese rind (I use about 3-4 inches of rind per soup)
- 2 large handfuls of greens (spinach was available here, but kale would be ideal)
- 1/4 cream
- In a medium soup pot over medium-high heat, cook sausage until browned and cooked through. You can use a spoon to crumble the sausage as it cooks.
- Remove cooked sausage from the pop and set aside on a plate.
- Drizzle olive oil in the bottom of the pot and add sliced onions. Cook until fragrant and translucent.
- Add garlic and cook until fragrant.
- Add small amount of broth to pot to "deglaze" it-- scrape the bottom of the pot immediately in order to remove flavorful bits stuck to the bottom. Add the rest of the broth.
- Season with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste. Add cheese rind.
- Add sliced potatoes and cook until potatoes are tender (about 15-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the potatoes).
- Add greens and cream. Cook until hot.
- Serve immediately, with toasty bread.