a soup to carry you through winter
What’s to like about winter? A low-slung sun. A bluer sky than blue. The last golden leaves to cling. Grass that crunches under foot. Children’s boots and mittens. Hot cocoa. The glow of candles near your bath. Longer hugs. And soup.
This is winter’s version of pistou, a Provençal vegetable soup, and I believe it is very possibly the finest winter soup I’ve ever made. It is, in fact, so fine a soup I’m going to be adapting it to different kitchens and circumstances. (Slow-cooker and pressure cooker versions will follow before winter’s done with us.) It’s gob-full of vegetables, heavenly hearty, and will warm you to your chilly toes.
This makes an enormous potful. We took half out to our mom and the half we have remaining is enough to feed a table full. There’s quite a bit of chopping involved, but sharpen your knife and trust me…it will be so worth your time.
Provençal Vegetable Soup
Extra-virgin Olive Oil – 5 Tablespoons
3 plump, moist Garlic cloves
Onions - 4 medium, cut in ½ – 1-inch pieces
Leeks - 3 medium, white & tender green parts only, rinsed, quartered & thinly sliced
Bouquet Garni: several fresh or dried bay leaves, fresh celery leaves, thyme sprigs & parsley - either tie together or put in a wire mesh tea strainer
Carrots - 8 medium, scrubbed & cut into thin wheels
firm, yellow-fleshed Potatoes (Yukon Gold) – 1 lb. (500 g) peeled & cubed
Celery ribs - 4 ribs with leaves, cut into thin pieces
Butternut Squash or raw Pumpkin – 2 lbs. (1 kg), peeled & cubed (yield: 1 qt. or 4 c.)
Farro or Spelt – or substitute Barley - 1 cup, rinsed & drained
can peeled Italian plum Tomatoes in their Juice - 28-ounce (750 g) can
Tomato Paste – 2 Tablespoons
small White Beans – such as navy or flageolet (see NOTE)
Cranberry Beans (such as Borlotti) (see NOTE)
mixture chopped Kale & Spinach *
freshly-ground coarse Pepper
freshly-grated Pecorino Romano cheese – ¾ cup
freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese – ¾ cup
NOTE: If using fresh beans, 1 pound of each in their shells. If using dried beans, 8 ounces (250 g) of each – pick them over, making sure you have no little pebbles, rinse the beans, place in a large bowl & cover with boiling water; allow to soak for 1 to 2 hours. Please note the different instructions – step 2 below – based on whether fresh or dried beans are used.
* – a bag of frozen chopped kale & spinach works great for this. Add as you’re ready to serve – each time you heat up a new potful of soup, add a handful or 2 of this mixture and you’ll have bright green in each bowl.
1. In a large, heavy-bottomed stockpot, combine the oil, onions, leeks, bouquet garni and salt to taste, then stir to coat. On low heat, sweat the onions & garlic mixture – cooking with the lid on for several minutes until what’s in the pot is softened and fragrant. Drop in the carrots, celery, squash, potatoes, farro (or spelt or barley), the tomatoes with their juice, along with the tomato paste. Add four quarts (4 liters) cold water. If you are using DRIED BEANS – add only 3 quarts cold water at this time. Cover the stock pot and bring to a simmer. Gently simmer for 30 minutes. Taste for salt & add as needed.
2. I didn’t use fresh beans, but if you have them, add at this time and continue to simmer until the beans are tender. Perhaps 30 minutes more.
If, on the other hand, you’re using dried beans, I suggest you cook them separate from the other ingredients and add to the big pot when the beans are just tender. Several reasons for doing it this way, but the main one is this: It’s difficult to judge the age of dried beans – and the longer they’ve been on the shelf, the longer they will take to cook. If you’re cooking them along with all the vegetables, those will be overcooked by the time the aged beans are ready. Add one quart of the bean-cooking liquid into the soup pot along with the beans. This will add depth of flavor and a heartiness this soup loves. (To cook the beans, place in good size pot, cover with water, add a pinch or salt and simmer until tender. Add the finished beans to the pot with 1 qt. of their liquid.) Again, taste for salt & add as needed.
3. Remove the bouquet garni and bring the pot to a boil. To thicken the soup, cook at a hearty boil for 5 minutes. Taste for salt one final time. You can add the chopped spinach & kale now, or do what we do which is portion out the amount of soup we’ll be having for the meal and add the greens only to this amount. A golden soup like this is prettier for the fresh green. Ladle into warm bowls & garnish with freshly-grated cheeses.
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This recipe was adapted from one by Patricia Wells, featured in her newest (and very lovely!) : The French Kitchen Cookbook