Don’t let the long list of ingredients deter you. The soup cooks quickly, and the pesto’s already made, right? My little secret ingredient is a piece of Parmesan cheese rind, which simmers along with the vegetables and adds great flavor. You remove it at serving time and can reuse it till it’s gone. Store wrapped in the freezer. 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.
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 the heat and slowly simmer for 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are almost tender. Add the pasta, cooked dried beans, and green beans and simmer for 5 minutes more, or until all is tender to your taste. Remove the rind and bay leaves and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Ladle into warm bowls, swirl in a heaping tablespoon or two of basil pesto, and serve. Actually, it’s nice to let the soup eaters swirl in their own pesto at the table; that way, everyone gets the full experience of the aroma as it hits the soup.
© 2004 John Ash. All rights reserved.