Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Soup au Pistou

Elixir For The Soul

September 19, 2007|By Shelley Rauch, shelleyrauch@gmail.com
My mother-in-law was the one who first clued me into the wonders of soup au pistou. In the unexpected chill of a late French spring evening, she found herself facing a steaming bowl of vegetable soup. Filled with beans, squash and tomatoes, it was all the more fragrant for the small ramekin of pistou served alongside.

Pistou is Provence's answer to Italy's pesto: all the bright colors and flavors of basil, olive oil and seasoning concentrated into one glorious paste.

As I stood facing a counter full of ripening summer vegetables, I recalled her story and reached for my cookbooks. One of her contributions to the Peninsula Fine Arts Center cookbook, The Art of the Palate, was the simply named, "vegetable soup with pistou." Like so many "traditional" recipes, this is as varied as the cook who stirs the pot. Hers hit the highlights with leeks, winter squash, potatoes, green beans, and even broken pasta.

I set out to make her recipe, but found myself tweaking and altering along the way. I began by gently browning the aromatics, then adding the liquid, seasoning, and remaining vegetables. Once all the initial chopping is done, all that's left is to let the mixture gently simmer until the vegetables have become pleasantly soft.

Another addition not found in the original is my ace-in-the-hole: Parmesan rinds. I add these to almost any soup, stew or sauce. The rind slowly releases its essence into the bubbling liquid - a rich, yet subtle flavor that gathers all the disparate components into one satisfying union. This is kitchen sorcery at its best!

I curled up with my own steaming bowl on a muggy, late summer evening. Swirling a dollop of the pistou on top, I sprinkled a touch more Parmesan, then dipped in a crunchy piece of toasted baguette. The melange of flavors instantly worked its own magic, erasing the rough edges of the day with every pungent spoonful.

olive oil
2 leeks, sliced
1 yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 cup dry white wine
8 cups chicken stock
Bouquet garni: parsley sprigs, bay leaf, thyme sprigs, orange peel, whole peppercorns (place in cheesecloth or coffee filter, securing with kitchen string)
2-4 inch Parmesan rind, chunked
2 cans garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
2 zucchini, sliced
2 summer squash, sliced
3 medium tomatoes
10 ounces frozen green beans (do not thaw)
For the pistou:
large pinch of coarse salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 large cloves garlic
large handful basil leaves
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup olive oil
grated Parmesan
toasted bread, sliced

Heat oil in large kettle over medium high heat. Add the leeks and onion; saute until just beginning to turn translucent, about 3 minutes.
Add garlic and saute another minute longer. Add the carrots and potatoes, cooking until colors have deepened.
Pour in the white wine and raise the heat, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to release any crusty bits.
Add the stock to the mixture until heated through, maintaining a constant simmer. Sprinkle in the salt and add the bouquet garni and Parmesan rind.
Stir in the garbanzo beans, zucchini, summer squash and tomatoes. Continue to simmer vegetables for 15 minutes. Add the green beans and simmer for another 15 minutes, until all the vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, make the pistou: Put salt, pepper, garlic and basil into food processor and pulse until all are reduced to a liquid paste. Add some cheese and mix until a stiff paste. Dribble in some olive oil, stirring until it becomes liquid again. Continue alternately adding cheese and olive oil until desired consistency.

Remove the bouquet garni and Parmesan rind from the the kettle. Ladle hot soup into bowls. Top with a small dollop of the pistou and sprinkle with Parmesan. Serve with toasted bread and additional pistou alongside.
Inspired by "Art of the Palate"