Soups

Provençal Vegetable Soup

SERVES 6 (VEG): This classic French soup is loaded with fresh vegetables and enlivened
with a traditional pesto.

WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS Highlighting the fresh flavors of Provençal cuisine, soupe au pistou is a classic French soup composed of seasonal vegetables, creamy white beans, and fragrant herbs. Celebrating colorful, early-summer produce, this soup needed to be chock-full of vegetables and simple to prepare. Leeks, green beans, and zucchini all made the cut; we liked their summery flavors and varying shades of green. Traditional recipes use water for the base, but supplementing the water with vegetable broth promised a more rounded, flavorful base; we cooked orecchiette directly in the broth so that the starch from the pasta would give it more body. Canned white beans tasted great and were far more convenient than long-soaking dried beans. This soup is always served with a dollop of pistou, France’s answer to pesto, and to make ours we simply whirled basil, Parmesan, olive oil, and garlic in a food processor. If you cannot find haricots verts (thin green beans), substitute regular green beans and cook them for an extra minute or two. You can substitute small shells or ditalini for the orecchiette (the cooking times may vary slightly). Serve with Garlic Toasts or crusty bread.

PISTOU

  • ½ cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (½ cup)
  • ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced

SOUP

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 leek, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced ½ inch thick, and
  • washed thoroughly
  • 1 celery rib, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 1 carrot, peeled and sliced ¼ inch thick
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 3 cups water
  • ½ cup orecchiette
  • 8 ounces haricots verts, trimmed and cut into ½-inch lengths
  • 1 (15-ounce) can cannellini or navy beans, rinsed
  • 1 small zucchini, halved lengthwise, seeded, and cut into ¼-inch pieces
  • 1 large tomato, cored, seeded, and chopped
  1. FOR THE PISTOU Process all ingredients in food processor until smooth, about 15 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. (Pistou can be refrigerated for up to 4 hours.)
  2. FOR THE SOUP Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add leek, celery, carrot, and ½ teaspoon salt and cook until vegetables are softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in broth and water and bring to simmer.
  3. Stir in pasta and simmer until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in haricots verts and simmer until bright green but still crunchy, about 3 minutes. Stir in cannellini beans, zucchini, and tomato and simmer until pasta and vegetables are tender, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, topping individual portions with pistou.

Seeding Zucchini

Halve zucchini lengthwise, then gently scrape out seeds using soup spoon.

NOTES

Successful Soup Making

Making a great pot of soup requires attention to detail, the right ingredients, well-made equipment, and a good recipe. Whether you’re making a homey chicken noodle soup or an elegant pureed vegetable soup, you’ll likely build a flavor base the same way and will need a good broth, herbs and spices, and a solid, sturdy pot that can take the heat (and, in some cases, go from the stovetop to the oven).

SAUTÉ AROMATICS: The first step in making many soups is sautéing aromatic vegetables such as onion and garlic. Sautéing not only softens their texture so that there is no unwelcome crunch in the soup, it also tames any harsh flavors and develops more complex flavors in the process.

START WITH GOOD BROTH: If you’re not inclined to pack your freezer with homemade stock, store-bought broth is a convenient option for soup making. Differences among packaged broths are quite significant—some are flavorful, and others taste like salty dishwater. Shop carefully. See Buying Broth here for further information.

CUT VEGETABLES TO THE RIGHT SIZE: Most soups call for chunks of vegetables. Haphazardly cut vegetables will cook unevenly—larger pieces will be underdone and crunchy, and smaller ones will be soft and mushy. Cutting vegetables to the size specified ensures that they will be perfectly cooked.

STAGGER THE ADDITION OF VEGETABLES: When a soup contains a variety of vegetables, they often must be added in stages to account for their varied cooking times. Hardy vegetables like potatoes and winter squash can withstand much longer cooking than delicate asparagus or spinach.

SIMMER, DON’T BOIL: The fine line between simmering and boiling can make a big difference in your soups. A simmer is a restrained version of a boil; fewer bubbles break the surface. Simmering heats food through more gently and more evenly; boiling can cause vegetables such as potatoes to break apart, and it can toughen meat, too.

SEASON JUST BEFORE SERVING: In general, we add salt, pepper, and other seasonings—such as delicate herbs and lemon juice—after cooking, just before serving. The saltiness of the stock and of other ingredients, such as canned tomatoes and beans, can vary greatly, so it’s always best to taste and adjust the seasonings once the soup is complete.

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