I hope you're not getting too tired of soup yet, we're not! Today, is a typical January day in Wisconsin...cold! Therefore, sitting down to a warming bowl of soup at night is wonderful.
Not only do we love steamy bowls of soup on a cold winter evening, we also love the idea that we are eating healthier with lower calories. Soup is filling and yet lower in calories than a regular meal. When we do have soup as our main course, I try to make sure that it contains some beans for protein.
Pistou soup is a filling meal on its own, but in some regions of France they add cubed bacon, grilled Toulouse sausages or ham. Yum! Like many other traditional Provençal recipes, there are many versions of this soup. Sometimes leeks are used and some leave out potatoes. Sometimes pasta is used and sometimes not. Some add the pistou sauce before serving the soup; some hand it round separately so that people can add as much or as little as they like.
The difference between this and other vegetable soups is the addition of a 'pistou', which is a flavorful paste made with fresh basil leaves, garlic and olive oil. It elevates vegetable soup from ordinary to sublime! If you love basil or pesto you cannot omit this step!
Since I had some home made pesto in the freezer made from my garden basil last summer, I used that instead of making fresh pistou. My pesto had pine nuts in it which is not included in pistou but it tasted wonderful.
Inspired by Soupe au Pistou from House Beautiful Magazine, January 2011 issue and Provençal Vegetable Soup from The Soup Bible
Provençal Vegetable Soup (Soupe au Pistou)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 small fennel bulb, quartered, cored, and cut into small dice
2 zucchini, cut into small dice
4 red potatoes, cut into small dice
1/2 cup celery root (celeriac) cut into small dice
2 small carrots, peeled and cut into very small dice
1 large clove of garlic, minced
3 Roma tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped*
2 32-oz containers no-sodium chicken stock
2 sprigs of fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
1 can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 can of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
6 ounces of green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces (I didn't use)
1/2 cup baby peas, either fresh or frozen and thawed
2 ounces of spaghetti, broken into pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Pistou (or use your frozen home made pesto)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup of packed fresh basil leaves
1/4 grated Parmesan cheese (optional) (Parmesan can also be sprinkled over the top of the soup)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Heat the oil in a large stockpot. Add the onion, fennel, and zucchini and saute over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until softened. Add the potatoes, celery root and carrots and saute for another 10 minutes. Add the stock, thyme, beans and tomatoes and simmer, covered for about 15 minutes longer. Add the green beans, peas and spaghetti and simmer for another 10-15 minutes until pasta is tender.**
To make the pistou, place the garlic, basil, olive oil and Parmesan (if using) in the bowl of a small food processor or blender and process until blended.
Ladle the hot soup into serving bowls, top with a dollop of pistou and a sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Pass additional pistou at the table, if desired.
*To easily peel the tomatoes, bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Have ready a large bowl of ice water. Plunge the fresh tomatoes into the simmering water for about 2 minutes and remove with a slotted spoon to the ice water bath.
**It is ideal if you can make the soup in the morning and refrigerate until ready to serve so that the flavors can meld.
If you need a little encouragement to make soup, here is a scene from a typical Wisconsin January!