The biggest downside of growing up in a very small town in the middle of nowhere for me was our selection of restaurants. Don’t get me wrong, little towns have absolutely wonderful hole in the wall places when it comes to certain food, but those food choices tend to be geared toward one or two types of food rather than a smattering of choice because the population is so small. I grew up with some of the best Mexican restaurants in Northern Arizona if you ask me, but there was very little in the way of Italian or Asian style food. Any time we had to travel for a doctor’s appointment or any other trip (i.e. the mall or Wal-Mart), I was usually in hog heaven trying to decide where I wanted to have lunch or dinner.
When visiting Flagstaff as a kid, Olive Garden quickly became one of my all time favorites. I am a serious glutton for pasta. I could eat it all day every day if given the chance (but I don’t!) And let’s be real. Who doesn’t love those buttery-garlic covered breadsticks dipped in a side of Alfredo? Getting the soup and salad lunch deal was a common purchase once I lived in a city with an Olive Garden because the price was so reasonable and I’m also a sucker for soup!
If anyone knows me, they know that I make soups. I make Mexican style soups, stews, lean and healthy soups, comfort soups, and more! One of my all time favorites would have to be the Zuppa Toscana from Olive Garden. The spicy kick with hearty potatoes mixed in with some bacon and a creamy broth? To die for! (You see why I have a problem with Olive Garden? I could eat there every day!)
My mother, a few years back, managed to get her hands on a “copy cat” recipe for the Zuppa and I’ve made it a handful of times. After a while, I started to alter the recipe. I wanted to substitute ingredients to make it a healthier soup. It’s a very simple recipe and I love to know that I have a jar or two waiting in my fridge for me after I’ve already eaten too much of it. I also love knowing that having another serving isn’t going to break the bank on my calories for the day. Even with all the alterations to the recipe, I think this tastes exactly like the Olive Garden wonder of a soup. It’s great by itself as the main course or a small starter to a dinner.