Provencal Vegetable Soup

Few things make me as happy as being awakened by the geese gawking while flying over my roof. Although this annoying sound will haunt me until Fall, hearing this so soon into March means that Spring is arriving. And soon. Temperatures are still quite chilly, but I know it is only a matter of days (wishful thinking) when I can trade in my wool coat for a light sweater. Not only will my wardrobe change, but my cooking will as well. This recipe is a start to that change. Although it is hot soup, it is something you picture eating on a terrace in the South of France, just as the temperatures start to climb. It is light, with a delicious tomato pesto stirred in called Pistou made from tomato paste, basil, garlic and Parmesan cheese. The Pistou would also be great tossed into pasta or used as a topping for a crostini. That is if you like garlic, which I worship. The soup has a ton of different flavors and a savory richness from the saffron in the broth that soaks into all the vegetables and pasta. So cheers to warmer weather, spring cooking, and those warmer weather seeking geese.

Provencal Vegetable Soup
Adapted from Barefoot In Paris, Ina Garten, 2004
serves 6 to 8

2 tablespoons good olive oil
2 cups chopped onions (2 onions)
2 cups leeks, white and green parts (2 to 4 leeks)
3 cups 1/2 inch diced unpeeled boiling potatoes (1 lb)
3 cups 1/2 inch diced carrots (1 lb)
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
optional: 1 teaspoon crushed black pepper
3 quarts chicken stock
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1/2 pound haricots vert (thin green beans, look for fresh or frozen; if cannot find use regular green beans), end removed and cut in half
4 ounces spaghetti, broken into pieces
optional: 1 diced roasted chicken breast (I use the store bought rotisserie chickens)
1 cup Pistou (recipe follows)
freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot, add the onion, and saute over low heat for 10 minutes, or until the onions are translucent. Add the leeks, potatoes, carrots, salt, pepper and red pepper if using. Saute over medium heat for another 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and saffron, bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Add the haricots verts, spaghetti and chicken if using, bring to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes.

To serve, whisk 1/4 cup of the pistou into the hot soup, then season to taste. Depending on the saltiness of your chicken stock, you may need to add up to another tablespoon of salt. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and more pistou.

To make in advance: cook the soup but don't add the haricots verts, pasta or pistou. When you are ready to serve, add the haricots and pasta, simmer for 15 minutes, then serve with the pistou.

makes 1 cup

4 large garlic cloves
1/4 cup tomato paste
24 large basil leaves
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup good olive oil

Place the garlic, tomato paste, basil and Parmesan in the bowl of a food processor (a blender would work too) and puree. With the motor running, slowly pour the olive oil down the feeding tube to make a paste. Pack into a container, pour a film of olive oil on the top, close the lid. Refrigerate until ready to use for up to a few days or freeze for up to 6 months.


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