After all that cooking and praising I did of Suzanne Goin's delicious recipes, I'm now the proud owner of her cookbook. I leaf through it from time to time, stopping to gaze at her gorgeously written recipes and beautifully-staged photographs, and I daydream about having enough time to cook everything in it. When I was given the book (thank you, Farah!), I threw out my newspaper clippings of her recipes. Well, all but one. The LA Times had written about Goin's soupe au pistou in their Culinary SOS column, but the recipe wasn't in the book. A simple Google search turned up the tidbit that Goin had found the recipe too difficult to adapt for just 6 people (the amount all of her recipes in the book serve).
Odd, because the LA Times' version of the recipe was for 6 to 8 servings (and in fact, it ended up serving only three of us last night - but when one of us is Ben, you can figure he can fit at least two or three servings under his 6 foot 5 inch belt). In any case, I was excited to try out a Goin recipe that had been published in the paper but not in her book, and got to work last night for dinner. The first thing I have to say about it is that it takes FAR longer than the recipe indicated it would (1 hour and 20 minutes). As Goin is wont to do, the soupe is made up of several different components, each of which took their good old time to be done. Making the soupe took me close to two hours.
I chopped and sauteed and stirred constantly and caramelized and blended and strained and sauteed yet again and chopped and sauteed one more time and brought to a boil and tossed and toasted. The house filled with incredible aromas: especially while making the initial broth. That part of the recipe is fantastic - it creates a deeply flavored, multi-layered broth that would be delicious as vegetable stock to make risotto with, or to simmer pastina in, or to add a medley of chopped vegetables to for a vegetarian soup that has a complexity of flavors heretofore unknown to most vegetable soups. Topping the soup with fragrant and crusty homemade croutons was a lovely touch as well (in fact, we could have nibbled on the croutons, sans soupe, quite happily, all night).
But something mucked the whole thing up, at least for me. Since my run-in with Giada's spinached version of pesto, I can't face the original stuff without my tummy doing somersaults. And I didn't realize this last night, after I dolloped our soup bowls with the pistou and sunk my spoon into the broth. Ben and Becca tucked in happily, but I found that the hard work of coaxing out all the myriad flavors in the broth and the varieties of lovely vegetables chopped and sauteed individually for the soupe was eclipsed by the strong flavors of the basil pistou. Why mask all of that vegetal goodness with the (comparatively) harsh pesto? Luckily Ben was happy to finish off my portion, and I nibbled on some cheese instead. But still, disappointment reigned supreme.
I did allow myself a few shortcuts (making the pistou in a mini food-processor, using canned beans instead of fresh; throwing the cut green beans into the strained soup to boil for a few minutes instead of blanching and cooling them in salted water). For your sanity's sake, I'd advise you to do the same. And I'd advise you not to put the pistou on the soupe and just enjoy the soupe alone with its hyper-flavored intensity. I realize that naming your unpistoued soupe a soupe au pistou sort of sounds ridiculous (as does that sentence), but trust me, it'll taste better, clearer, more interesting, without it.
Soupe au Pistou with Parmesan Croutons
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 sprig rosemary
1/2 dried chile de arbol
1 cup roughly chopped onion
1/4 bulb fennel, roughly chopped (about 1/4 cup)
1/2 cup roughly chopped carrot
1/3 cup roughly chopped celery
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
5 sprigs thyme
3 sprigs Italian parsley
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon kosher salt (I only used 1 teaspoon)
1 cup chopped canned San Marzano tomatoes (about 4)
2 quarts water
1. Heat a large heavy-bottomed pot over high heat for 2 minutes. Add the olive oil, rosemary and chile. When the rosemary and chile start to sizzle, add the onion, fennel, carrot, celery, garlic, thyme, parsley, bay leaf, fennel seeds, peppercorns and salt.
2. Saute the vegetables for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring often, until they begin to caramelize. Add the tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes.
3. Add the water, bring to a boil and simmer until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Cool slightly, then puree in a blender, in batches if necessary. Strain. Cool completely.
1/2 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup thinly sliced basil
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup chopped parsley
3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
1. Pound the garlic in a mortar with the salt until it forms a paste. Place in a small mixing bowl. In batches, pound the basil to a paste, transferring the paste to the bowl as you go.
2. Stir the olive oil into the basil. When the basil has all been incorporated, pound the parsley in the same manner and add to the bowl. Gently pound the pine nuts and add to the bowl. Stir; taste for seasoning.
Soup and assembly
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3/4 cup diced red onion
3/4 cup diced fennel bulb
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups diced zucchini
1 1/2 cups 1-inch bais cut mixture of green and yellow beans
1/2 cup cooked fresh shelled beans (flageolet or cranberry)
1/4 pound country white bread
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano
1 cup baby spinach leaves
1 recipe pistou
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat a medium saute pan over high heat for 1 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and the onion. Cook until the onion is translucent. Add the fennel, thyme leaves, salt and pepper. Cook until the fennel is tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove to a plate and cool.
2. Return the pan to the stove, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and quickly saute the squash over high heat for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove to a plate to cool. Blanch the cut beans for 2 minutes in boiling salted water. Cool in an ice bath. When the vegetables have cooled, add them to the soup. Add the shell beans; taste for seasoning.
3. Cut the crust from the bread and tear the remaining bread into rustic 1-inch pieces. Using your hands, toss with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and the Parmigiano, squeezing the bread gently to help it absorb the oil. Arrange the croutons in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast, stirring often, 12 to 15 minutes, until golden brown and crisp outside, but a little tender inside.
4. Heat the soup to boiling. Stir in the baby spinach. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish each with a spoonful of pistou and a handful of croutons.