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Column: I bought the wrong sausage

As I sit here at my desk writing my weekly, it is raining cats and dogs, and for the first time in months, my heater kicked on.

While I am not looking forward to using propane because filling the tank can devastate my budget, I look forward to the tradition of “Soup Sunday” at our home during the year’s colder months. It’s always quite a bit of fun to put together a soup on a cold Sunday between the plethora of NFL games we watch rooting on our favorite teams or hoping for a great day for our fantasy squad.

Last week, Melissa and Shayla were under the weather, so I decided to make my first batch of soup for the fall. It wasn’t a Sunday, but the sick ones in the house requested soup, so I decided to go with a new recipe.

When traveling or moving to a new place, I would much rather eat at a smaller, locally-owned restaurant, but I have eaten at many chain restaurants over the years. When living in Washington, my office was within walking distance of an Olive Garden, and the unlimited lunch of soup, salads, and breadsticks was often too good of a deal to pass up.

I know quite a few of my “foodie” friends who will scold me for my decision to eat so much at the chain restaurant, and I get it. It’s certainly not the most authentic Italian food one can get, but I’ve always loved their soups and have probably eaten my weight times three or four in those addictive breadsticks. A few times, I ate so many breadsticks at lunch that I only wanted to climb under my desk and sleep for about two hours. I was never very productive after the Olive Garden, but I could say I got some exercise walking a few blocks.

Because I’m a fan of their soups, I’ve put my spin on the Pasta e Fagioli, which has become a staple at my house.

Always wanting to cook something different, when I figured out I would be making soup, I thought back to when I had the Zuppa Toscana at lunch and figured I would try it. For some reason, I always thought this soup would be daunting, but I was surprised by how simple the recipes were.

When it came time to start the soup, I began assembling the ingredients and realized I had picked up chorizo instead of Italian sausage. My initial reaction was to reach for the keys to head back to the store, but since I live about 15 minutes away, I decided I’d stick with what I had. I had already agreed to substitute spinach for kale, so I figured this would be a hybrid soup version.

It was a fabulous start to making the soup because it began with frying bacon. The smell of bacon permeated the house within seconds, and I was hungry. For a few moments, I thought we should have vast plates of bacon for dinner but remembered there were sick people in the house, and they deserved a nice bowl of hot soup. Also, a plate of bacon is probably not a healthy decision. Once the bacon was done, I removed it and added the chorizo to the grease. I was a little leery of the sausage change, but this went away when I smelled the sausage cooking in the bacon grease. After removing the sausage, I threw in a stick of butter, added onion for a few minutes, and then half a head of fresh garlic.

The smell of the onion and garlic cooking in the butter was intoxicating, and while I did not want it to burn, I wanted to wait a few more seconds until I added some chicken broth and water.

I kept wanting to add some spices, but the recipes just said to add a little salt and pepper near the end of cooking, so I did not.

After adding about five roughly diced potatoes, I let the soup simmer for about 20 minutes before the chorizo and bacon made a return appearance, followed by the spinach.

After a bit of salt and pepper, I put in a cup of heavy whipping cream, and the color of the soup was phenomenal. At this point, I wanted to pick up the pot and drink from it like a mad scientist enjoying his creation.

I’ve failed numerous times trying to thicken up a soup but really wanted to make it work before I served the Zuppa Toscana. I threw some instant mashed potatoes into the pot to thicken the soup. I’ve read a few times this could work, and to my surprise, it did.

After I let the soup thicken, it was time to eat, and it got very quiet in the house. I was nervous about the reactions because it was the first time I had tried to make this soup, but the silence was because Melissa and Shayla were enjoying their meal.

I enjoyed it so much with the chorizo I might keep that as part of the recipe. I’ll keep the spinach, too. I hear so much about kale being a super food, but I can’t handle it.

I’m far from excited about snow but stocked about a few more new recipes for “Soup Sunday.”