After all the holiday parties are over, the presents are put away, and the decorations are taken down, there is one thing that I look forward to immediately after the New Year. That thing is walking out onto my front stoop, opening up the mailbox and retrieving that first of many garden/seed catalogues. It is actually a love/hate feeling. I love looking at the pictures, dreaming and designing my 2011 kitchen garden, but I hate the fact that I still have to wait what seems like an eternity until the first frost-free date. And where I live, that date falls in the month of May!
The catalogue that I received yesterday had the most beautiful looking sliced tomato on the cover. It made me think of walking past my tomato plants and smelling that tomato vine smell--so earthy, so wonderful. And then I thought of the large pots of basil planted nearby. Mmm...basil and tomatoes, how I miss that fresh summer taste.
Fortunately, I can still enjoy that taste of basil and tomatoes in the dead of winter and it is in this soup. Soupe au Pistou is a French Provençal vegetable soup made with a pistou. Like the Italian pesto, a pistou is a "pounded" sauce of garlic, basil, tomato, and cheese. And since I have some frozen basil pesto that I made in the freezer from the end of last year's harvest, this soup is on the menu tonight.
I make the soup base with chicken broth, onions, potatoes and carrots. I then add some haricots verts (french green beans), navy beans, and broken spaghetti noodles and season with a bit of saffron. To add body to the sauce I crumble in a piece of day old white bread. But what really gives this soup a lovely fresh taste and velvety texture is stirring in a mixture of tomato paste and pesto. Ladle into bowls and serve with crusty white bread--it is the next best thing to walking in my garden when it is 20º degrees outside.
Soupe au Pistou
2 quarts chicken broth, homemade or store bought
1 quart water
2 medium yellow onions, diced
2 medium carrots, cut into a 1/4 in" dice
2 large red boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into a 1/2" dice
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper1/8 teaspoon saffron
8 oz (1/2 lb) haricot verts or slim green beans, cut
1-15.5 oz can navy beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup broken spaghettini pasta
1 day old piece of white bread, crumbled
1/3 cup basil pesto, store bought or homemade
4 tablespoons tomato paste
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
In a large stock pot, bring the chicken broth and water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add the onions, carrots, potatoes, and seasonings. Cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, stir together the pesto and tomato paste until thoroughly combined.
Twenty minutes before serving, add the haricot verts, beans, bread, and pasta. Bring to a low boil and cook just until the green beans are cooked through, about 15 minutes.
When ready to serve, gradually add 1 cup of the hot broth into the pesto/tomato mixture. Pour the mixture into the rest of the soup and stir until combined. Serve with hot bread. Enjoy!
Source: Adapted from Mastering The Art of French Cooking