"provençal soupe au pistou"
recipe from Ready When You Are Copyright© 2003 by Martha Rose Shulman
serves 8 generously
This big spring vegetable soup from Provence is much like an Italian minestrone, but the enrichment comes at the end rather than at the beginning. Instead of cooking aromatics in oil before adding water and vegetables, everything is thrown into the pot here and cooked until the vegetables are tender and the broth fragrant. Then, just before the soup is served, a rich Provençal pesto (pistou) is stirred in. The difference between pistou and pesto is the consistency: There are no pine nuts in pistou. Sometimes a tomato is added. It's a heady mixture. Beans are another important component of Soupe au Pistou. If you're lucky enough to find fresh cranberry beans at your farmers' market, substitute them for half of the dried white beans. If you make this a day ahead (it will be best if you do), don't add the pasta or bright green vegetables until shortly before serving.
for the soup
2 cups white beans, soaked for 6 hours in 2 quarts water and drained
1 large onion, chopped
6 to 8 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
Bouquet garni made with a few sprigs each of fresh thyme and flat-leaf parsley, a Parmesan rind, and a bay leaf
1/2 pound green beans, or 1/4 pound green beans and 1/4 pound yellow wax beans, trimmed and broken into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
2 medium zucchini (about 1/2 pound), scrubbed and diced
2 large carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 leeks, white and light green part only, cleaned and sliced
2 medium turnips, peeled and diced
1 poundred-skinned potatoes, diced
1 pound tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped, or 1 (14-ounce) can, with liquid
1/2 cup soup pasta, such as macaroni or small shells
Freshly ground black pepper
for the pistou
2 to 4 large garlic cloves (to taste), peeled
2 cups tightly packed fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped (optional)
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan, or a mixture of Gruyère and Parmesan
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Gruyère, for sprinkling
combine the white beans and 2 quarts water in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven, and bring to a boil. Skim off any foam, then add the onion, 2 of the garlic cloves, and the bouquet garni. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 1 hour.
The soup can be made to this point up to 3 days ahead. Refrigerate, then bring back to a simmer and proceed with the recipe.Set aside half the green beans and half the zucchini. Add 2 quarts water to the pot, and all of the remaining garlic and vegetables, except the reserved zucchini and green beans. Bring to a boil. Add salt (be generous), reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 1 hour. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
The blanched zucchini and green beans will keep for 2 or 3 days in a covered bowl in the refrigerator.While the soup is simmering, blanch the reserved beans and zucchini, and make the pistou. Bring a large or medium pot of water to a boil, add a teaspoon of salt and the zucchini, and cook for 3 or 4 minutes, just until the zucchini is bright on the outside and translucent. Remove from the pot with a slotted spoon or skimmer and transfer to a bowl of ice-cold water. Drain and set aside. Bring the water back to a boil and drop in the green beans. Cook for 5 minutes, or until tender and bright. Transfer to a bowl of ice-cold water. Drain and set aside.
To make the pistou, turn on a food processor fitted with the steel blade and drop in the garlic. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the basil and salt, and process until finely chopped. Scrape down the sides once more and turn on the machine. Drizzle in the olive oil with the machine running, then drop in the tomato if using. Process to a paste. Stir in the Parmesan, and taste for salt.
Add the pasta to the simmering soup about 10 minutes before serving, and cook it al dente, 5 to 10 minutes. Add pepper, then taste and adjust the salt. Stir the blanched or steamed green vegetables into the soup and heat through.
To serve, either stir the pistou into the pot, place a dollop on each bowl and stir in, or pass the pistou in a bowl and let people stir in their own. Pass additional Parmesan or Gruyère for sprinkling.
Like all soups of this nature, Soupe au Pistou gets better overnight, and it will keep for about 5 days. You'll lose the brightness of the vegetables, and the soup will thicken because of the pasta. If you wish to transform it into something else, see the recipe for Ribollita on page 000.