vegetable soup chef john ash

Serves 8 to 10

Here’s my version of that wonderful soup from Provence in France. There are all kinds of variations on this but usually it includes both dried and fresh beans, tiny pasta, root vegetables and whatever other fresh vegetables you have available. It looks like a long list of ingredients but don’t let that deter you. It’s very easy. My little secret ingredient is to add a piece of Parmesan cheese rind to simmer along with the vegetables. It adds great flavor. You remove it at serving time and can reuse it till it’s gone. Store wrapped in the freezer. Another good reason to buy from a good cheese store. The rind of Parmesan and related hard cheeses like Asiago or Pecorino are amazing flavor boosters. Of course if you don’t have any rind the soup will still be delicious.

4 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped onions
2 cups leeks, including white and tender green parts cut into rings
4 large cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
1 large red or white boiling potato, scrubbed and diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon fennel seed
2 teaspoons whole thyme
2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock or water
3 or 4-inch chunk of Parmesan rind, optional
1 cup seeded and diced fresh tomatoes or drained, canned diced tomatoes
1/2 cup small dry pasta such as riso
2 cups cooked dry bean of your choice such as navy, flageolet or garbanzo (if using
canned, rinse before adding)
2 cups fresh green beans or zucchini cut in 1/2 inch pieces
Basil mint pesto (recipe follows)

Heat the olive oil in a deep soup pot over moderate heat and add the onions, leeks, garlic, potatoes and carrots. Sauté and stir for 3 or 4 minutes until the vegetables begin to soften and just begin to brown. Add the bay leaves, fennel seed, thyme, stock, Parmesan rind if using, and tomatoes to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and slowly simmer for 10 minutes or until vegetables are almost tender. Add the pasta, cooked dried beans, green beans and simmer for 5 minutes more or until all is tender to your taste. Remove rind and bay leaves and season to your taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into warm bowls and swirl in a heaping tablespoon or two of basil mint pesto and serve immediately.

Basil Mint Pesto

Makes about one cup.

3 cups fresh basil leaves (firmly packed)
1/2 cup mint leaves (gently packed)
1 tablespoon chopped poached or roasted garlic
3 tablespoons lightly toasted pine nuts or almonds (preferably blanched or skinned)
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan, pecorino or asiago cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Plunge basil leaves into a pan of boiling water for 5-10 seconds. Immediately drain and plunge into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and set the bright green color. Drain and squeeze out as much water as possible. Add basil to a food processor or blender along with the mint, garlic, nuts and oil and purée. Transfer to a bowl and stir in cheese. Correct seasoning with salt and pepper. Store covered in refrigerator for up to 3 days. Can also store frozen up to 3 months. If freezing leave out cheese and add when you serve it.

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