Think of this as southern France's answer to minestrone, a seasonal vegetable soup — enriched with a simplified basil pesto (no pine nuts) — that is more common in warmer weather, when fresh basil grows plentifully. But you can make it off-season, too. Some of the ingredients are likely to be in your pantry right now (white beans, canned tomatoes and soup pasta).
Don't be intimidated by the long list of ingredients--it's not as hard as it looks. Note also that you can buy pre-chopped carrots, celery and onions at most supermarkets. You also can omit some of the veggies -- I'd skip the turnips -- to cut down on the prep time, and substitute jarred pesto for the homemade. And it's OK to prepare through step 2 a day ahead. This is a yummy soup that reminds me of Nice and the beautiful, blue Mediterranean!
Adapted from a favorite source, "Recipes for Health" in the NY Times.
RECIPE: FRENCH SOUPE AU PISTOU
For the soup:
1 1/2 cups canned white beans, drained and rinsed
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 leeks, white and light green part only, cleaned and sliced
1 pound tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, or 1 14-ounce can, with liquid
2 cups shredded savoy or green cabbage
2 large carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 medium-size zucchini, scrubbed and diced
2 medium-size turnips, peeled and diced (optional)
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and broken into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups), blanched for five minutes and set aside
1/2 cup soup pasta, such as macaroni or small shells
Freshly ground pepper
For the pesto: (NOTE: You also can use prepared pesto)
2 large garlic cloves, halved, green shoots removed
Salt to taste
2 cups, tightly packed, fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan for sprinkling
1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet, and add chopped onion and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until tender, about five minutes. Add the leeks and garlic. Stir together for a few minutes, and add the tomatoes. Cook, stirring, until the tomatoes have cooked down slightly and the mixture is fragrant, five to 10 minutes. Stir this mixture into a large soup pot, add the beans and all of the remaining vegetables except the green beans, and bring back to a simmer. Cover and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes to an hour. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
2. While the soup is simmering, blanch the green beans for five minutes in salted boiling water. Transfer to a bowl of ice-cold water. Drain and set aside.
3. To make the pesto, mash the garlic with a generous pinch of salt in a mortar and pestle. Remove it and set aside. Grind the basil to a paste in the mortar, a handful at a time, then add the garlic back in and mix together well. Work in the olive oil a tablespoon at a time, then stir in the cheese.
4. Add the pasta to the simmering soup about 10 minutes before serving, and cook until al dente. Add pepper, taste and adjust salt. Stir the blanched green beans into the soup and heat through. Serve, adding a spoonful of pesto to each bowl for guests to stir in. Pass additional Parmesan for sprinkling.