With the bitter cold temperatures outside right now, a warm bowl of soup is the ultimate comfort food, and this soup more than fills the bill.

Zuppa Rustica is the result of several reincarnations of a soup from a famous restaurant chain. The soup is one of my husband's favorites, and one he orders often. A few years ago, I found a copy cat version of the soup online, and gave him the recipe.

Never one to follow exact directions, he made a couple alterations, and his version was richer and tasted better than the original.

I took it a bit further, adding more ingredients and changing others, until I came up with my version. I call it Zuppa Rustica, because it makes me think of a simple peasant soup that could easily have originated in the mountains of northern Italy, where you are more likely to find foods featuring butter and cream.

Buon appetito!

Zuppa Rustica

1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed

1/2 pound bacon, diced

5 medium Yukon gold potatoes, washed and sliced into bite-sized pieces (do not peel)

1 large onion, diced

1/2 cup sweet red pepper, diced

1 large carrot, peeled and grated

3 cloves garlic, minced

4 cups fresh spinach, roughly chopped

2 32-ounce boxes of chicken broth

1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

1 cup heavy whipping cream

Salt

Pepper

Spray a large frying pan with a light coating of cooking oil. Over medium to high heat, crumble and fry sausage until fully cooked and nicely browned. Drain on paper towels. In the same pan, without removing the grease from the sausage, fry the bacon until crispy.

In a large soup pot, add chicken broth, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and teaspoon of black pepper, garlic, potatoes, sweet red pepper and grated carrot.

Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook until potatoes are tender, but still firm, about 10 to 15 minutes. Make sure not to overcook, or the potatoes will disintegrate into your soup.

Add sausage, bacon and red pepper flakes. Add 1/2 teaspoon additional salt, if needed. Simmer 8-10 minutes over low heat. Add spinach and heavy cream. Cook on low until spinach is cooked, about 1-2 minutes.

Makes four to six dinner-size servings, or eight first course servings.

January is a great time for soup. Check out Comfort & Joy next week for another yummy soup recipe. Past recipes are available online at http://www.tnonline.com/lifestyle/comfort-and-joy [1].