Winter has arrived in Ottawa. And looking out the window at the blowing snow, preparing a big pot of warming soup seems like the right thing to do for today, tomorrow and some for the freezer.
I have prepared the original version of Soupe au Pistou before but this time it is more special to me because the beans were straight from the bean and crop farm, part of a Farm & Food Care Tour that I was privileged to take in earlier fall.
This particular soup was inspired from a variety of sources. Soupe au Pistou is similar to minestrone: lots of mixed vegetables, some pasta, some beans but with the addition of a basil puree, similar to pesto but without the pine nuts. My version will use Parmesan cheese rinds and a prepared pesto with pine nuts. These rinds give the soup some oomph. I also added canned diced tomatoes for a richer stock – my version is a soupe au pistou-minestrone-pesto blend. The best of each component.
Below are some of the beans I received from the farm — I picked them over to remove branches and stones; when you buy them from the store, you can ignore this step!
I soaked the beans covered with water overnight. The next day I put them in a large pot, with two bay leaves, covered with water and cooked until tender, about 45 minutes.
Here are my drained beans, ready to add to the soup later.
Instead of spinach or Swiss chard, I used the remaining kale leaves from my little backyard kale crop for this soup. It was amazing how much kale I harvested over the summer and fall from three potted plants. A very hardy crop.
I used the vegetables available but you can add or enhance with your favourites or what is freshest at the market. Carrots, celery, zucchini, leeks, green beans, thyme leaves, kale, and garlic for me.
And I have my cooked white beans, frozen peas, rotini pasta and a can of diced tomatoes ready to go.
The Parmesan cheese rinds are the little something extra that I have learned along the way. When I freshly grate Parmesan cheese, I save the hard rinds at the ends of the grated pieces and put them in the freezer for future use. When making a vegetarian soup, I add 2 or 3 pieces for additional flavour.
The vegetables should be cut into similar size pieces. They cook evenly this way. Garlic is minced (it’s hiding somewhere under the leeks).
Coarsely chop up the kale and have the branches of thyme leaves ready.
In a large pot, heat the oil and saute all the vegetables until they soften. Add the thyme and some salt & pepper.
Once all the vegetables are softened, add the diced tomatoes, kale, beans, pasta, Parmesan rinds, peas and two quarts of water. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to simmer, until the pasta is cooked through. If it gets too thick, add more water. My soup pot was filled to the brim. Lots of soup for future meals. Discard the Parmesan rinds and the thyme stalks.
A teaspoon of pesto per bowl of soup is the final touch.A meal full of veggies, protein and pasta. Pesto adds extra flavour. A bowl of warmth and goodness. Enjoy!
Soupe au Pesto
1 cup dry white beans (or 1 can cooked white beans)
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 celery stalks
1 large leek
handful green beans
2 cloves garlic
a few stalks of fresh thyme, or 1 tsp dried thyme
handful of kale, chopped
1 cup frozen peas
1 large can (28 oz.) of diced tomatoes
2-3 Parmesan rinds, optional
1 cup of any small pasta such as rotini, penne or macaroni
salt and pepper, to taste
- If you are using canned cooked white beans, drain the beans and reserve until needed.
- If you are using dried beans, soak the dry beans overnight covered in cold water. Next day, drain the beans and put them in a large pot with the bay leaves and enough water to cover the beans, about 2 quarts of cold water. Cook the beans for about an hour, or until tender, adding more water if necessary to keep them covered. Once cooked, drain the beans and set aside.
- Cut the onions, leeks, carrots, zucchini, green beans into similar bite-size pieces. Chop the garlic and roughly chop the kale.
- In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil.
- Add the onions or leeks and stir until translucent. Add the diced carrots, zucchini, green beans, garlic, kale, thyme, Parmesan rinds, and some salt and pepper. Continue stirring until the vegetables are all softened.
- Add the cooked beans, diced tomatoes, the peas and pasta, plus 2 quarts (2l) water. Bring the soup to a boil, and simmer for about 15-20 minutes until the pasta is cooked. If the pasta has absorbed too much water, add more. Add the salt and pepper, to taste.
- Remove thyme branches, if using and also the Parmesan rinds.
- In each bowl of soup served, add a dollop of pesto and stir. Serve and enjoy.