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Vegetable Soup with Basil Sauce (Soupe au Pistou)

Vegetable Soup with Basil Sauce (Soupe au Pistou)
Pistou is a paste made with olive oil, garlic, basil and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to which dried bread, pine nuts or almonds are added as a thickener. It shows the influence of Italy on the cooking of southeast France, especially Nice. Freshly made pistou has an intense, sharp flavor that enhances all the other ingredients in the soup, but if left to stand before using, it can become dull and even bitter. The soup itself varies from a humble one of dried beans and pasta to more elaborate ones that may include fresh shelling beans.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 yellow or white onions, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 8 potatoes such as Red Rose, Belle de
      Fontenay or Bintje, about 3 lb., diced
  • 1/2 lb. green beans, trimmed and cut into
      1-inch lengths
  • 2 cups fresh shelling beans such as cranberry,
      flageolet or lima (about 2 lb.)
  • 3 tomatoes, peeled and chopped, with juice
  • 3 quarts vegetable stock
  • 2 Tbs. fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh marjoram
  • 1 cup broken spaghetti or other thin pasta
      (small pieces)

For the pistou:

  • 20 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
  • 4 cups fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 1 to 1 1/4 cups extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. salt

  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions:

In a large soup pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the potatoes, green beans and shelling beans and cook, stirring almost constantly with a wooden spoon, until the beans are glistening and the potatoes are nearly opaque, 5 to 6 minutes.

Stir in the tomatoes and their juice. Then add the stock, thyme, salt, pepper and marjoram. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes and beans are soft, about 40 minutes. Add the pasta and cook until the pasta is done, 10 to 15 minutes more.

While the pasta is cooking, make the pistou: In a food processor, combine the garlic, basil, cheese, pine nuts and 3 Tbs. of the olive oil. Process using short on-off pulses to form a paste. With the machine running, gradually add enough of the remaining oil to form a thick sauce. Add the salt and process briefly to blend. Alternately, combine the garlic, basil, cheese and pine nuts in a mortar and pound them with a pestle until they form a smooth, thick paste. Gradually add the olive oil, stirring with the pestle until a thick sauce forms. Season with the salt.

To serve, ladle the soup into warmed bowls, then stir 1 Tbs. of the pistou into each bowl. Garnish each serving with a sprinkling of the cheese. Pass the remaining pistou and cheese in separate serving bowls at the table.
Serves 12 to 15.
Adapted from The Savoring Series, Savoring France, (Weldon Owen Inc., 1999).