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The BEST Vegan Zuppa Toscana (Instant Pot Recipe)

Today’s vegan Zuppa Toscana (Instant Pot recipe) is a delicious and hearty plant-based copycat version of the famous sausage and kale soup served at Olive Garden – a US-based Italian chain restaurant. This is a perfect weeknight dinner recipe that even picky eaters will enjoy.

Vegan Zuppa Toscana Instant Pot

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If you used to like Zuppa Toscana soup at Olive Garden before going vegan, OR if you’re looking for a dairy free Zuppa Toscana recipe, you’re going to LOVE my vegan Instant Pot Zuppa Toscana!

My vegan version of this Tuscan soup is healthier and leaner than its Olive Garden version, yet it boasts all the flavor and heartiness that so many of us have grown to love.

I used to work at Olive Garden many years ago – in fact it was one of my first jobs after I immigrated to the United States. At the time, Zuppa Toscana was one of the three soups the restaurants offered every day, and it was by far the most popular soup among our visitors.

It’s no wonder: Olive Garden’s Zuppa Toscana is a rich, chunky soup with a delicious, creamy broth, loaded with spicy Italian sausage, potatoes, and kale.

One may even think that this soup is kind of healthy because of the kale. Unfortunately, this healthy diet staple veggie doesn’t negate all the fat and cholesterol of the pork-based sausage and heavy cream ☹️

Thankfully, this doesn’t mean that health-oriented and/or vegan people can’t enjoy this soup.

Today I’m sharing my vegan version of the classic Zuppa Toscana.

It’s just as delicious and hearty as its Olive Garden version. And since it’s much leaner, higher in fiber, and cholesterol free, we can kind of, sort of call it healthy ?

Serve with some crusty bread on the side, and you’ll be in comfort food heaven in no time.

To make things even easier, I’ll show you how to cook this classic Italian soup in the Instant Pot (or a similar type of pressure cooker).

No Instant Pot? No problem – I’ve included stovetop cooking directions over here.

How to make vegan Zuppa Toscana

How to Replace Dairy in Vegan Zuppa Toscana

The classic Zuppa Toscana soup is known for its creamy broth. It’s slightly thicker than chunky broth-based soups, yet not as thick and smooth as blended cream soups.

Olive Garden achieves this creamy thickness by using heavy cream as one of the ingredients.

There are a few ways we can replace dairy-based heavy cream if we’re making vegan/dairy free Zuppa Toscana:

1. By using cashew cream. 1 cup of raw cashews mixed with 2 – 2 1/2 cups of water will yield a lovely, creamy liquid that’s perfect for replacing heavy cream.

The downside: if you don’t have a high speed blender, the texture of your cashew cream may stay a bit grainy no matter how hard you blend it.

2. By using canned coconut milk or coconut cream. Texture-wise, the thick and creamy coconut milk is perfect straight out of the can.

The downside: your dairy free Zuppa Toscana soup will most likely have a coconutty aftertaste.

3. By using soy, almond, or other types of non-dairy milk. This is pretty straightforward with one caveat: the milk of your choice has to be unsweetened, and definitely NOT vanilla-flavored. Nobody wants to eat vanilla sausage soup ?

Also, keep in mind that some types of non-dairy milk are thinner in texture than others. For example, almond milk is usually thinner than soy milk (with the exception of Silk Extra Creamy Almond Milk). Rice milk is the thinnest of all plant-based milks, so it won’t work very well in this recipe.

4. By using non-dairy creamer. If non-dairy milk is good, then non-dairy coffee creamer should be even better, right? Yes, but there’s a downside: it’s really hard to find a dairy free coffee creamer that’s truly unsweetened. Trust me as someone who LOVES unsweetened coffee ?

Besides, some non-dairy creamers start acting strange and break down into some oily mess once you start heating them up. Definitely not worth using in a soup.

5. By using vegan cream cheese. This may sound a bit unconventional, but definitely worth checking out.

The caveat: some types of non-dairy cream cheese (Violife, Tofutti) have a combination of oils and starches as their base. Once heated in the soup, they will most likely turn oily instead of creamy.

Nut-based cream cheeses like Miyoko’s or Treeline will work better since nuts don’t melt into oil.

6. By using unsweetened oat milk – the best method in my opinion. I find that oat milk has the perfect combination of creaminess and thickness, plus it doesn’t turn watery like some other non-dairy milks. It’s one of the best nut-free options + it’s soy-free = more allergy friendly.

Keep in mind: the oat milk you’re buying still needs to be both unsweetened and NOT vanilla flavored. My favorite brand for use in my dairy free Zuppa Toscana is Chobani Unsweetened Oat Milk that I use in my upcoming recipe video.

How to Replace Meat-based Sausage in Vegan Zuppa Toscana

Hearty sausage is another key ingredient in Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana recipe. It gives the soup a rich, savory, deeply umami flavor enhanced by Italian herbs and fennel.

However, this sausage is made with pork, so it’s as non-vegan as it gets. Plus, it’s loaded in cholesterol – and so is heavy cream used in this soup.

Thankfully, we live in the times when the choice of vegan sausage brands on the market is truly remarkable.

Here are a few meatless sausage brands that work really well in our healthy vegan sausage soup:

Italian Garlic & Fennel Sausage by Field Roast

This is my go-to sausage for cooking in various recipes, from my vegan wild rice and mushroom soup with sausage to my veggie-loaded balsamic pasta and my vegan Instant Pot jambalaya.

I like that Field Roast sausages don’t fall apart completely during cooking, so I can always count on getting a few sausage chunks in every bowl.

However, this sausage is gluten-based, so if you’re gluten-free, you’d want to use something else.

Beyond Sausage, Hot Italian or Sweet Italian

Another flavorful plant-based sausage option for Instant Pot vegan Zuppa Toscana soup. It’s both gluten-free and soy-free – perfect for people with food sensitivities.

However, uncooked Beyond sausages have a very soft consistency, so they have to be pre-cooked quite well to yield sausage crumbles.

Instead of crumbling raw Beyond sausage with your fingers like I do with Field Roast sausages, it’s best to put the whole uncooked sausage in the preheated Instant Pot, and break it up into pieces using a wooden spoon.

Impossible Sausage

I haven’t tried Impossible sausage in my vegan Zuppa Toscana, but I saw it mentioned online as a good option. It’s gluten-free but NOT soy-free.

This company sells brat-sized sausages and breakfast sausage patties. But the most cost-effective (and easiest to use) option is their ground sausage packed into 14-ounce rolls. Crumble it up into your Instant Pot, and voilà!

Vegan Bacon

Another good way to enhance your vegetarian version of Zuppa Toscana with smoky, meaty umami flavor and aroma.

There are a lot of brands of vegan bacon out there, and depending on their ingredients they will behave differently in this soup.

Whichever brand you use, make sure to sauté it first, and add it into the soup at the end.

Whole Food, Plant-based Options

If you’re trying to keep your meatless Zuppa Toscana as healthy and plant-based as possible, feel free to skip the sausage altogether.

Add cooked white beans (cannellini, navy, etc.) for a boost of protein and fiber, and sprinkle in some Italian seasoning to enhance the flavor.

Dairy free Zuppa Toscana Instant Pot

VIDEO: Vegan Instant Pot Zuppa Toscana

Watch me make this soup in this video on my YouTube channel:

What Type of Potatoes are Used in Vegan Zuppa Toscana?

Depending on their type, potatoes may behave differently when cooked in the Instant Pot (or even on stovetop).

The best type of potato for cooking in the Instant Pot needs to keep its shape well yet remain nice and tender once it’s cooked.

How do we know if the potatoes we chose stay together or turn into a mush when pressure cooked?

In short, the higher the starch content is in the potato, the easier it will fall apart during cooking.

An example of high starch potato type is russet potatoes. The starch makes them nice and fluffy when mashed or fried, but it’s also the reason why they fall apart so easily when pressure cooked and/or boiled.

“Waxy” potatoes (new potatoes, red-skinned, fingerling potatoes, etc.) have a lower starch and higher moisture content, which helps them hold their shape better during cooking.

These are perfect for roasting or cooking in a soup, but not so great for mashing or baking.

Finally, there’s the “golden middle” of the potato spectrum: all-purpose potatoes. These combine “the best of both worlds”: starchy enough for mashing, yet firm enough for boiling in a soup.

Yukon Gold potatoes are an example of an all-purpose potato. These potatoes are my choice for using in my vegan Zuppa Toscana soup.

I like using them in most of our family’s favorite soups like Vegan Instant Pot Minestrone, or Vegan Mushroom-Barley Soup with Chickpeas.

Yukon Gold potatoes release some starch into the broth during cooking, which helps thicken the soup. Yet they keep their shape well without falling apart as long as they aren’t overcooked.

I prefer not to peel Yukon Gold potatoes in this recipe to give the soup even more texture. Feel free to peel them though if you like.

How to Thicken the Broth of Vegan Zuppa Toscana

Traditional Zuppa Toscana isn’t as thick as, say, cream of mushroom soup, yet it’s a bit thicker than most broth-based soups.

The folks at Olive Garden get this texture thanks to heavy cream, fat from the pork-based sausage, and starch from the potatoes.

Obviously we don’t have the first two of those going for us in our vegan Zuppa Toscana recipe. To fix this, we’re going to “lean into” the starch.

There are two ways of doing this that don’t involve any additional ingredients.

METHOD #1: Using a Countertop Blender

Once the pressure cooking phase is over, release the steam and open the lid.

Remove about 2 cups of soup and add them into the bowl of a blender along with the non-dairy milk. I prefer using unsweetened oat milk.

Any blender will do: if you don’t have a high-speed one like Vitamix or Blendtec, just use whatever’s available.

Blend the soup and milk mixture until smooth, then pour back into the Instant Pot. Follow the rest of the recipe in the recipe card below.

METHOD #2: Using an Immersion Blender

Just like in the Method #1, release the steam out of your Instant Pot once the pressure cooking phase is over, and open the lid.

You don’t need to take any soup out of your pressure cooker. Using an immersion blender (I love this one by All-Clad), give the soup a couple quick pulses.

IMPORTANT: Make sure to really do just a couple pulses! It’s really easy to over-blend this soup with an immersion blender. Better to under-blend and then blend a bit more than to over-blend and lose all the texture.

After that, add the non-dairy milk, and follow the rest of the recipe (see recipe card below).

Zuppa Toscana Olive Garden Copycat Recipe

How to Make Vegan Zuppa Toscana Gluten Free

Making vegetarian Zuppa Toscana recipe gluten free is easy. All we have to do is to watch two ingredients: plant-based sausage and non-dairy milk.

Plant-based sausage. Out of the three veggie sausage brands I mentioned above – Field Roast, Beyond Sausage, Impossible Sausage – the last two contain no gluten according to their manufacturers.

(If you’re watching for soy: Field Roast and Beyond Sausage are soy free.)

If you use a different brand of meatless sausage, make sure to read the label.

Alternatively, skip the sausage and use some canned white beans for whole food, plant-based protein.

Non-dairy milk. Most types of non-dairy milk are naturally gluten free.

However, it’s always best to read the label. Sometimes the facilities where this or that milk is produced can also process other ingredients, including ones that contain gluten, so cross-contamination may happen.

Rule of thumb: if the box prominently says “Gluten Free”, you’re most likely in the clear.

I mentioned above that I like using oat milk in my plant-based Zuppa Toscana. Note that with oats, things can get tricky.

Sometimes wheat grains make their way into oat crops. Once those wheat-contaminated oats are processed into oat milk, some gluten may stick around.

This is why if you decide to go the oat milk route, make sure tat you choose a gluten free brand. Brands like Oatly, Chobani Oat, Califia, Simple Truth all mention that they are gluten free.

Alternatively, skip the plant-based milk and use a different creamy component like homemade cashew cream, canned coconut milk, nut-based vegan cream cheese, etc. (See all options here.)

Vegetarian Zuppa Toscana Recipe Instant Pot

How to Make Vegan Zuppa Toscana on Stovetop

If an Instant Pot or a similar type of pressure cooker is unavailable, my vegan Zuppa Toscana recipe can easily be made on stovetop.

(For ingredient amounts and the Instant Pot version of this recipe, see the recipe card below.)

Prep the ingredients. Crumble up the plant-based sausages into small pieces. Chop the onion. Mince the garlic. Slice the potatoes (I keep the skins on, but feel free to peel them if you’d like).

Preheat a large pot on stovetop over medium heat. Add 1-2 Tbsp avocado oil/veggie broth/water.

Once the liquid is hot, add all of the crumbled sausage. Sauté 4-5 minutes, stirring often, until the sausage is browned. Remove and set aside.

Add 1 Tbsp oil/veggie broth/water. Sauté chopped onion until translucent, 3-4 minutes.

Add minced garlic, ground fennel seeds, oregano, thyme, red pepper flakes, bay leaf, sage, salt and pepper to the sautéed onions, mix well.

In the meantime, grind fennel seeds in a mortar and pestle (or buzz them a few times in a clean coffee grinder). This will help them release more flavor into the soup.

Add sliced potatoes and 5 cups of water/low sodium veggie broth. Cover with a lid, and bring to a simmer. Cook 10-12 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender but still keep their shape.

While the soup is cooking, get the the rest of the ingredients ready.

Rinse the kale, remove its thick stems, tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces and massage them to soften. Drain and rinse cannellini beans (if using).

OPTIONAL STEP to thicken the broth: Once the potatoes are tender, remove about 2 cups of soup and add them into the bowl of a blender along with the non-dairy milk (I use unsweetened oat milk).

Blend until smooth and add back into the Instant Pot.

ALTERNATIVELY, use an immersion blender: keep all of the soup in the Instant Pot, and quicky pulse it a couple times. Add back into the soup along with the non-dairy milk.

Mix in the massaged kale, crumbled sausage, and beans (if using) into the soup. Bring back to a simmer, and cook 1-2 min to warm up. Turn off the heat.

Sprinkle in nutritional yeast (if using). Taste and adjust the seasoning.

To store this vegan Zuppa Toscana, refrigerate it in an airtight container for 3-4 days, or freeze it in a freezer-safe Ziploc bag (I love these reusable ones) for up to 2 months.

More Olive Garden Copycat Recipes from the Blog:

Easy Vegan Minestrone Soup (Instant Pot or stovetop)

Easy Capellini Pomodoro Pasta (a.k.a. Angel Hair Pomodoro, Bruschetta Pasta)

Yield: 8 Servings

Best Vegan Zuppa Toscana (Instant Pot Recipe)

Instant Pot Vegan Zuppa Toscana Gluten Free

This easy Instant Pot vegan Zuppa Toscana soup is a plant-based copycat version of the famous Olive Garden sausage soup with potatoes and kale. It's healthier and leaner than its restaurant version, yet it's just as delicious and hearty. Dairy free, meatless, easily made gluten free and soy free.

For stovetop cooking instructions, see the blog post above.

Prep Time 17 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Additional Instant Pot Time 18 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 vegan Italian-style sausages - I use Field Roast*, crumbled by hand into small pieces
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp fennel seeds**
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp dry rubbed sage (optional)
  • 2 bay leaves (optional)
  • Dash red pepper flakes
  • Salt, black pepper to taste
  • 6 medium size Yukon Gold potatoes (peeled or unpeeled), sliced into 1/4 inch thick slices
  • 5 cups water/low sodium veggie broth
  • 2.5 cups unsweetened non-dairy milk***
  • Large bunch kale, stems removed, leaves torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (optional)****
  • 1 Tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)
  • Avocado oil or olive oil / vegetable broth / water, as needed for sautéing

Instructions

  1. Preheat your Instant Pot by pressing the Sauté button. Once it reaches medium heat, add 1-2 Tbsp avocado oil/veggie broth/water. Add all of the crumbled sausage. Sauté 4-5 min, stirring often, until the sausage is browned. Remove and set aside.
  2. Add 1 Tbsp avocado oil/veggie broth/water. Sauté chopped onion till translucent, 3-4 min. In the meantime, grind fennel seeds (see note* below). Add minced garlic, ground fennel seeds, oregano, thyme, red pepper flakes, sage + bay leaf (if using), salt and pepper to the sautéed onions, mix well.
  3. Add sliced potatoes and 5 cups of water/low sodium veggie broth. Press Cancel. Lock the lid in place, making sure that the vent lever is set to pressure. Press the Manual button and set the timer for 3 min.
  4. While the soup is cooking, rinse the kale, remove its thick stems, tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces and massage them to soften. Drain and rinse cannellini beans (if using).
  5. Once the pressure cooking time is up and your Instant Pot beeps, follow 10-minute natural release opening method: let the timer reach 10 minutes, then press Cancel and carefully release the steam (depending on your Instant Pot model, you'll either need to turn the pressure knob into venting position, or press the button next to the vent). Open the lid and stir the soup.
  6. OPTIONAL STEP to thicken the broth: Remove about 2 cups of soup and add them into the bowl of a blender along with the non-dairy milk (I use unsweetened oat milk). Blend until smooth, then add back into the Instant Pot. ALTERNATIVELY, use an immersion blender: keep all of the soup in the Instant Pot, and quicky pulse it a couple times (make sure not to over-blend: you want the soup to stay chunky). Add back into the soup along with the non-dairy milk.
  7. Press the Sauté button again. Mix in the kale, crumbled sausage, and beans (if using). Bring the soup to a gentle simmer, and cook 1-2 min. Press Cancel. Sprinkle in nutritional yeast (if using). Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Notes

* See the blog post for other sausage brand recommendations.

** Ground fennel seeds will release much more flavor. For best results, lightly grind them using a mortar and pestle to break up their skins, or pulse them a few times in a clean coffee grinder.

*** I find that unsweetened oat milk (like the one by Chobani I'm showing in the video) works best, but any unsweetened non-dairy milk will work too. Just make sure it's not vanilla - nobody likes vanilla sausage soup ?

**** Feel free to omit cannellini beans. The original recipe for Zuppa Toscana doesn't use beans, but I like adding them to mine to give it a boost of plant-based protein and fiber.

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

8

Serving Size:

1 bowl

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 285Total Fat: 9gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 0mgCarbohydrates: 46gFiber: 7gSugar: 7gProtein: 14g

Please note that the provided nutritional information data is approximate.

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author avatar
Alina Zavatsky - Vegan Runner Eats
Alina first made a switch to a vegan diet in 2013 to optimize her athletic performance as a marathon runner. Eventually she embraced veganism as a way to be kinder to fellow living beings and the environment. Alina hopes that this blog helps its readers on their path to becoming vegan and making this world a better place.

Jackie

Sunday 7th of January 2024

Made this it was amazing! I used the beans, & the impossible breakfast sausage roll. Outstanding!

Alina Zavatsky - Vegan Runner Eats

Monday 8th of January 2024

So glad to hear you liked it, thank you for letting me know!

Shellie

Saturday 8th of October 2022

***** - Fantastic recipe. I added the bay leaf and 1 tsp. of the sage. Looking forward to having this again soon. Thanks, Alina.

Alina Zavatsky - Vegan Runner Eats

Wednesday 12th of October 2022

Thank you Shellie, glad to hear you liked it! ?

Shellie

Friday 7th of October 2022

Help. Prepping this now. It sounds great. You don't have bay leaf or sage listed in the ingredient list. Bay doesn't show in the ingredients to print, and in the vid you use sage and no mention of bay leaf. How much sage should I add with the bay leaf?

Alina Zavatsky - Vegan Runner Eats

Wednesday 12th of October 2022

Hi Shellie, sorry for the confusion! 1-2 bay leaves and 1/2 tsp dry rubbed sage will do.

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