julia child, mastering the art of french cooking, julie powell, french cuisine

Pesto Change-o!

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“Early summer is the Mediterranean season for soupe au pistou…fortunately, this soup is not confined to summer and fresh vegetables, for you can use canned navy beans, frozen string beans, and dried herbs.” – Julia Child

Well, we’re officially into Day 3 of Snowmageddon 2011, and there’s no sign of things letting up. In fact, we’re set to have more snowfall overnight! So far we’ve survived on chili and cornbread, hot cocoa and warm soups. I love winter weather. I love the fire in the fireplace, the cats snuggled next to me in the bed on cold mornings, and Ben’s canceled classes. 

Last night, I decided to make one of Julia’s hearty soups to get us through this week of negative wind chill temperatures. Even though she claims Soupe au Pistou (provencal vegetable soup with garlic, basil and herbs) is ideal for summer months, it really hit our spot on a cold night. The recipe is extremely easy, and it didn’t take long at all to make. 

Looking good! Soup before adding pistou.

I simply diced a couple cups each of carrots, baking potatoes (peeled), and onions and tossed them all into a pot of 3 quarts of water. I added two cups of cooked Navy beans and some salt and let the pot boil for about 20 minutes. It seemed like a lot of water for not as many vegetables, but I stuck to the recipe like a good student. 

At the 20 minute mark, I added two cups of frozen cut green beans, 1/3 cup of broken spaghetti noodles, some bread crumbs and pepper. While the pot continued to cook for another 15 minutes, I made a pistou (pesto), a tomato-based paste that would become the base of the soup broth. 

Pistou - literally "pesto" - smells so good, you'll almost change your mind and make spaghetti or a pizza instead!

In a bowl I mixed tomato paste, mashed garlic, basil and grated Parmesan cheese, then slowly drizzled in some olive oil. I stirred the mixture until it was a thick paste (it smelled so good, like a delicious home-made pasta sauce!) then dumped it into a pot. When the soup was done cooking, I gradually added a cup of soup to the pistou and, like magic, the watery broth turned to a rich red. I poured in the rest of the soup and mixed everything together with a wooden spoon. The sauce thickened and suddenly became more recognizable as a vegetable soup broth. 

I served the soup in bowls with a side of sweet cornbread (we were out of crusty French bread and there was no way I was venturing out into the ice for that), and it was actually a really filling meal! The soup was thick, almost more like a stew. The bread crumbs gave the broth some good body, and there wasn’t a whole lot of liquid for sopping up with the bread. I had to add a lot more seasoning than Julia suggested – but then again, I tend to play it pretty safe when cooking with spices. Some Nature’s Seasoning gave the soup the flavor I was missing, and then it was perfect. 

Hearty vegetable soup with cornbread - a perfectly warm meal on a frigid day.

I would definitely make this soup again, but with a few slight modifications. For one thing, I probably could have made half the recipe. I had envisioned having some leftovers for warm lunches throughout the rest of the week, but we probably have more than we need. Second, I would only use half the amount of Navy beans. While they were tasty and gave a nice texture to the soup, they were kind of competing with the vegetables for my taste buds’ attention. Also, I think I could have done without the spaghetti noodles. They just seemed a little out of place. And finally, I would add more water – I kind of missed the extra liquid in my soup bowl. But other than that, it was terrific. In fact, I may or may not have a Tupperware bowl of leftovers in my lunch bag at work today… 

In other news, I couldn’t help noticing there’s a certain sporting event coming up this weekend. My husband (king of statistics) tells me that behind Thanksgiving, Super Bowl is the second biggest day of the year for food consumption. I believe him. Tune in this week for my all-time favorite Super Bowl recipe…whether you’re planning a big party or just hanging out with the family, this tasty dish is perfect for your game day hunger needs. 

Bon appetit!
– Jessica

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