Friday, February 13, 2015

Soup Swap
What’s cooking? Provençal Soupe au Pistou

The Kitchen Goddess is well aware that all the world is focusing on Valentine's Day. And she has already sent off her cookie tins filled with love and sprinkles. This post is about sharing a different sort of love.

When a friend and neighbor was recently diagnosed with cancer, several friends in the area wanted to help. As usual, our first thought was of food – that unintrusive but universal offering that says, “We care.” Soup is a particularly good choice, being both a comforting food and one that requires very little in the way of accompanying dishes to complete the meal.

I figured that if I was going to cook enough for the couple in question, I might as well cook enough for my husband and me. One thought led to another, and – you can see where this is going, can’t you? – eventually, the words “Soup Swap” popped into my mind. Okay, maybe “Soup Swap” isn’t the most logical conclusion, but that’s how the Kitchen Goddess’s mind works.

About a year ago, I participated in a Food Swap that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was much more elaborate than the Soup Swap idea – involving lots of people bartering a wide variety of foodstuffs – but the basic concept remained: a trade of my cooking for your cooking. In the Soup Swap, each person contributes a container of one soup to each of the other cooks, and emerges with containers of as many different soups as there are participants in the swap. For this particular swap, we would tack on an additional container for the sick friend and his wife.

It turns out that not all of my friends are enthusiastic about cooking large amounts of soup, regardless of the bounty they’d receive in return. But I did get three other friends in on the act. Frankly, that was probably just the right number – once you’ve made a quart of soup for four friends plus yourself (16 cups – yikes!), you can start feeling sort of souped out.

The soup I chose to make is a vegetable soup from Provence with a totally marvelous pistou, the Provençal cousin to pesto, but made without pine nuts.

I think what I like most about this soup is that it covers almost the full spectrum of vegetables:

• legumes/podded vegetables (green beans, lima beans, cannellini beans)
• bulb and stem vegetables (onion, garlic, fennel)
• leafy vegetables (cabbage, spinach)
• fruits (squash, zucchini)
• root and tuberous vegetables (carrot, potato, turnip).

Yes, all that and more. You feel healthier with the first bite. The limas and cannellini beans give this soup a thickness that makes it feel more substantial than most vegetable soups – more like a stew, less brothy. It’s got great color, and really works for any season.

Kitchen Goddess note: There are two absolute musts for this soup to succeed. (1) Do NOT decide to forego the Parmigiano-Reggiano rind. The Kitchen Goddess, who wouldn’t be caught dead without Parmigiano-Reggiano in the fridge, saves the rinds of leftover parm in a plastic bag in her freezer. But these days, quite a few grocery stores sell parm rind in little plastic containers, so even if you threw your rind away (and shame on you if you did), you can easily get more. Or just buy a wedge of the cheese and cut the rind off. Parmigiano-Reggiano rind (the real thing) works a kind of magic in soups, especially vegetable soups, where it adds flavor and body. So you WILL SAVE IT from now on. (2) Even with the rind, nothing you can do will take the place of the pistou. It completely changes the dish, from good vegetable soup to, “Ahhhhh....”

In the spirit of Valentine's Day, I should also note that this is one of my darling husband’s favorite soups.

Provençal Soupe au Pistou

Adapted from Gourmet magazine, May 2001.

Makes about 16 cups.

For the soup:
1 small fennel bulb
¼ pound sliced pancetta, chopped
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium turnip, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
¼ small cabbage, cored and chopped (2 cups)
1 (2-inch) piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
1 small yellow summer squash, cut into ½-inch dice
1 small zucchini, cut into ½-inch dice
1 medium boiling potato, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf (not California)
1½  teaspoons salt
9 cups water
1 (10-ounce) package frozen baby lima beans
½ pound haricots verts or other thin green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 (15- to 19-ounce) can cannellini or other white beans, drained and rinsed
5 ounces (about 5 cups) baby spinach

For the pistou:
3 large garlic cloves
½  teaspoon kosher salt
1½ cups fresh basil leaves
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 ounce grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (⅓ cup)

Mis en place, friends. This soup is infinitely easier if you do all the chopping first.

Make the soup:
Cut the fennel stalks flush with the bulb, and discard them (or stick them into a plastic bag with the other veggie scraps you’re saving to make veggie broth one day). Trim off any tough outer layers from the fennel bulb, and cut it in half lengthwise. Chop each half into ½-inch dice.

In a 5-6-quart heavy pot (I use a Le Creuset 5.5-quart French oven), heat the olive oil and add the pancetta. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 7 minutes, until the meaty edges start to curl/brown.

Add the fennel, onion, turnip, carrots, and cabbage and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage wilts, 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the cheese rind, squash, potato, thyme sprigs, bay leaf, salt, and water and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low (whatever heat allows you to maintain a simmer), and cook uncovered, for 10 minutes.

Stir in the lima beans, green beans, and cannellini, and return the soup to a simmer. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Discard the cheese rind, thyme sprigs, and bay leaf. Stir in the spinach and season with salt and pepper.

While the soup is simmering, make the pistou:

Chop the garlic fine, then using a fork, mash it to a paste with the salt. Combine the basil and garlic paste in a food processor until the basil is finely chopped. It will have a vaguely mealy look. With the processor running, slowly add the oil. Add the cheese and process the mix to a purée.

Serve each bowl of soup with a healthy dollop of the pistou. The pistou should be stirred into the soup before eating.

And a Happy Valentine's Day to you all!


  1. Your cookies are beautiful as always! And the soup looks so delicious...can't wait to try it!
    Happy Valentines Day!

    1. Thanks, Elaine! The soup is really extraordinary, at least in my humble opinion. I hope you enjoy it.