Monday, January 17, 2011


The Olive Garden was my very first job ever, in high school. I worked there for three years, and by the time I left I swore I never wanted to see another bowl of endless salad or basket of breadsticks ever again. Though they WERE sooooo good with Alfredo sauce, not even kidding!!!

In any case, during the course of my Italian McDonalds career, I grew to love three things at the Olive Garden - their Cappelini Primavera (no longer available, thank you very much!), their Pasta E' Fagioli soup and their Tiramisu. Two of those things were amongst the healthier options you could eat at TOG, but one of these things was not like the others. I'll let your amazing skills of deductive reasoning work it out.

Anyways, because it's January, and because everyone wants to get on the health bandwagon in January, I was brainstorming low-fat, veggie loaded dishes I could whip up for quick and easy dinners this month, and my mind turned back to the Pasta E' Fagioli soup, as well as to a soup that my friend W made last month, which was delicious. And because I've decided to cut back my meat intake to just once or twice a week, maximum and to up my veggie intake my triple I thought that with a few tweaks, this classic soup could be downright good for me, as well as delicious.

So tonight, while listening to a little Over The Rhine, I whipped it up, literally within 45 minutes, including chop time. And now, after having sat down to a big steaming bowl, I can say, in my personal opinion, this is some of the best tasting, best for you soup I've had in ages.

So here's my recipe, try it out and tell me if you agree. Just a side point too, this soup has a full serving of your daily allowance of lutein, which is more than most of us get in a week! So without further ado, my Kind of Italian, Kind of Whatever Version of Pasta E' Fagioli Soup

1 tablespoon Olive Oil
3 medium carrots, chopped
3 stalks of celery, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 onion, chopped
1 lb. Jenny-O Hot Italian Sausage, casings removed
1 Red Bell Pepper, middle removed and chopped
1 Green Bell Pepper, middle removed and chopped
1 medium can of Diced Tomatoes with Italian Seasonings/Roasted Garlic, whatever you find
1 small can of Tomato Sauce
1 cup dry red wine (optional)
1 large container Reduced Sodium Organic Free Range Chicken Broth from Trader Joes (or Veggie Broth if you prefer)
2 tbsp Italian Seasoning mix from Penzeys, or any Italian spice mix (or Oregano, Basil, Sage, Rosemary)
1 can Cannellini Beans, drained
1 can Kidney Beans, drained
2 medium zucchini, chopped into bite size pieces
1 large head of Kale, leaves chopped into bite size pieces
1 package cheese tortellini, from the fresh pasta section, already boiled and tossed with a little olive oil to prevent sticking
Pre-grated Reduced Fat Grated Italian Cheese blend, to taste

In a large stock pot, drizzle a little olive oil, about one tablespoon, and let it get warm enough that it moves fluidly along the bottom of the pan, when you tilt the pan. Add the carrots and celery, and saute for 3-4 minutes. Then add the shallots, garlic and onions and continue to saute till the onions turn translucent. Remove from pot, and set aside.

In the same pot, add the sausage, and break it up, as it cooks, just like you would ground beef. I use a Pampered Chef Mix & Chop which is such a handy tool - seriously, if you know a Pampered Chef crack pusher, you should totally get one!

Once the sausage is brown, return the vegetables back into the pot, and add the green and red bell peppers, and saute for 2-3 more minutes.

Now comes the fun part.... you can just start dumping everything else in there, UNTIL you get to the zucchini. Once you get to the zucchini, STOP!! Do not add that, the kale or the tortellini yet, they'll mush up and overcook if you do. Just let everything else come to a slow simmer, and cook like that for 20 minutes. Now you can throw in the kale, zucchini and tortellini (btw- with the tortellini, it's much better if you boil it ahead of time, but if you're crunched for time, or pots, you don't have to). Return to a slow simmer and let it cook for another ten minutes, and voila!! Top it off with some of that shredded cheese, and some crushed red pepper if you're feeling particularly adventurous, and you have an amazing soup, with a ton of vegetables, that is hearty, and tasty, and not really all that bad for you either.

So, from my faux Italian kitchen to yours, enjoy!!! And as they used to say at TOG years ago, Hospitaliano! (I'm pretty sure they made that word up and it's not even really part of authentic Italian vocabulary). Enjoy!!

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