April 15, 2010

Soupe au pistou

Here I am again! It really has proven difficult lately to get inspired in the kitchen. I'm still baking a lot, but how many cakes do you really want to see? It's not that I'm not cooking either, but we are doing things more simply around here. Not as much entertaining (I can barely stay up past 9:30) and just doing the nesting thing as we prepare for the arrival of baby in June. :-)

But that doesn't change the fact that glorious Spring --long awaited here in Nashville this year--has finally arrived. All of a sudden everything is green, flowering, beautiful and warm. My garden is just getting started. I have strawberries in pots and garlic that I planted in the Fall sprouting up at the edge of the garden.

And, of course, the hearty, meaty stews of Winter have given way to lighter fare using the bounty of Spring vegetables available now. This soup is one of my favorite Spring staples. I look forward to making it every year at this time. It is so nutritious and satisfying, not to mention beautiful to look at.

Soupe au pistou is a Provencal tradition, its roots seem very rustic French to me: green beans, potatoes and pasta are all part of the mix. It could also include white beans. The 'pistou' refers to the pesto that is drizzled on each bowl of soup before serving. Just look at the bounty: I counted 8 different veggies in mine! Swiss chard, carrots, celery, garlic, leeks, zucchini, green, beans and potatoes.

Because everything is so fresh, it takes a bit prepping and it can be done ahead of time, but this soup doesn't need to cook very long --just long enough to soften the vegetables and cook the pasta al dente, but not so much that the veggies lose their vibrant green color. So it really is easy to make. We did it on a weeknight when we were out and didn't start dinner until almost 8:00. I had, however, done the work of chopping the veggies earlier, which is key.

Soupe au pistou (adapted from an old Gourmet recipe, but Ina Garten has a good one too, or make up your own!)

1 large leek, washed and thinly sliced
1 celery rib, cut into 1/2 in pieces
1 large carrot, cut into 1/2 in pieces
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large thyme sprig (if it's in your garden)
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 lb potatoes (Yukon gold are great), cut into 1/2 in pcs.
1/2 lb swiss chard, stems cut small and leaves roughly chopped
8 cups water
1/2 lb zucchini, cut into 1 in pcs.
1/4 lb green beans, cut into 1 in pcs.
3/4 c small pasta shells, whole wheat if you prefer

For pistou:
use your favorite pesto, one that you made last summer, or:
1 small tomato
1 cup packed basil leaves
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 T e.v.o.o.
1 cup of parmigiano, pecorino or gruyere cheese

(Throw everything but the oil and cheese in a food processor and blend, then stir in the oil and cheese by hand).

After washing and chopping all the veg, start by cooking the leek, carrot, celery and garlic in the oil with salt and pepper in a big, heavy pot, stirring occasionally, until veg brown and stick to the bottom of the pot, about 10-15 min.

Add potatoes and chard stems with 1/2 t salt and cook about 5 min, or until beginning to soften. Add water and bring to a boil, stir in zucchini, green beans, chard leaves, pasta and more salt and simmer, uncovered, until pasta is al dente and veggies are tender, about 10 min.

Discard thyme sprig, remove from heat, stir in half the pistou and salt and pepper to taste. Serve soup with remaining pistou and crusty baguette slices brushed with olive oil.

I promise this soup is Spring in a bowl! Enjoy.