Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Perfect Summer Soup

As both a dedicated gardener and shameless foodie, I note how the traditional dishes of Western Europe match the availability of seasonal vegetables. For example, minestrone, a classic Italian vegetable soup, and its French cousins, paysanne or pistou soups, all utilize the vegetables of early summer. Here's the recipe for a version I made last night. The leeks and cabbage were stored from our earlier harvest. The tomato came from a commercial farm in Grainger County. (Ours are not quite ripe yet.) The other veggies, except the Great Northern beans, came directly from the garden. I also harvested basil and parsley for the pesto sauce, and the garlic was pulled a few weeks ago.

This recipe most resembles minestrone, in which the tomatoes are cooked along with the other aromatics. If tomatoes are omitted, the recipe will be closer to soup paysanne. Pistou, the French version of pesto, has more garlic than pesto. Each of these techniques imparts a subtly different flavor to the finished product. Feel free to modify the ingredients list to reflect what you have on hand. Corn and squash could be included, for example, although these are New World foods.

Classic Vegetable Soup with Pesto

1 leek, trimmed and well washed, chopped
1 large carrot, scraped, trimmed and chopped
1 tablespoon canola oil
pinch of salt
1 tomato, cored and chopped
1 potato, pared and cubed
1/2 cup cut green beans
1/2 cup cut yellow wax beans
1/2 cup canned Great Northern beans, rinsed well and drained
1/2 cup shredded green cabbage
a few leaves of celery, chopped
1/3 cup small noodles or pasta, any style
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large soup pot and add the leeks and carrots with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are translucent. Add the tomatoes, stir and cook gently, covered, until the oil separates and is colored red. Add 1 1/2 cups of water and raise the heat so the water simmers. Cover and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients along with another 1 1/2 cups water. Simmer gently, covered, until the vegetables are tender and the pasta is cooked, another 10-15 minutes.

While the soup simmers, place a dollop of pesto (recipe below) in the center of a rimmed soup plate. Ladle the soup into the plate and serve immediately with crusty bread. Pass additional pesto and grated cheese at the table.

You can use your favorite brand of pesto, but with basil abundant in summer, why not make your own. This recipe was especially delicious with Singing Brook cheese, made by Blackberry Farm in Walland. Singing Brook closely approximates Parmigiano-Reggiano, with subtle differences. The easiest way to make pesto is in a food processor.

Pesto Sauce

1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup torn fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup grated Singing Brook cheese (or Parmigiano-Reggiano)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Mince the garlic by dropping it whole through the feed tube of the food processor while the blade is spinning. Add the walnuts to the work bowl and pulse to chop. Add the parsley leaves and pulse to mince them. Add the butter and basil leaves and pulse until combined. Add the cheese and olive oil and pulse until the mixture begins to hold together in a mass. Transfer the pesto to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Press the wrap down against the surface of the pesto to prevent discoloration. Refrigerate until needed. Pesto keeps in the refrigerator for a week or more.

I have posted a recipe for the more elaborate pistou soup and sauce on the In the Kitchen Page.

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