I once asked Simone Beck, coauthor (with Julia Child) of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, what taste she thought most typical of Provence (she lived near Grasse). “Basil,” she replied instantly. “Its perfume sums up Provence and the sun.” And it does just that in this mixed vegetable soup simply known as pistou, the Provençal name for the pounded basil sauce that accompanies it. It can be made a day ahead; immediate freshness is lost, but I think the flavor of the soup deepens and blooms.

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Ingredients

  • cup/60 g dried white kidney beans, preferably cannellini
  • cups/375 ml. pistou
  • 1 leek, white and green parts, thinly sliced
  • 3 tomatoes (about 1 pound/450 g total), peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 3 small zucchini (about 1 pound/450 g total), diced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 handful of green beans, trimmed and cut into 2 or 3 pieces
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • 2 quarts/2 liters water
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup/170 g shelled fresh or frozen peas
  • ounces/75 g dried short noodles
  • grated parmesan cheese, for serving

Method

In a heatproof bowl, pour boiling water over the kidney beans to cover, leave to soak for 30 minutes, and drain. Put the beans in a small saucepan with water to cover generously. Cover, bring to a simmer, and cook until nearly tender, about 1 hour, adding more water if the pan gets dry. Meanwhile, make the pistou.

Drain the beans and put them in a soup pot with the leek, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, zucchini, onion, green beans, and bouquet garni. Add the water, season with salt and pepper, cover, bring to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes. Add the peas, simmer for 5 minutes, and stir in the noodles. Continue simmering until the noodles are cooked and the vegetables are tender, 7 to 10 minutes longer. They should not be crunchy.

The soup should be quite thick, but if too much of the water has evaporated, thin it with a little boiling water. Take the soup from the heat, discard the bouquet garni, and stir in half of the pistou. Cover and set aside for 10 to 15 minutes for the flavor to mellow. You may also let it cool and then store it in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

To finish, if the soup has been made ahead, bring it back just to a boil. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve very hot, passing bowls of Parmesan cheese and the remaining pistou separately.

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