Soupe au Pistou
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
Pinch of sea salt
⅓ cup olive oil, preferably Provençal or Ligurian
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
½ cup dried cannellini or borlotti beans, soaked overnight
1 or 2 bay leaves
6 cups chicken stock, vegetable broth or plain water
¼ cup finely minced pancetta (Italian bacon; optional)
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
¼ cup chopped white or yellow onion
¼ cup olive oil, preferably Provençal or Ligurian
2 leeks, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 small zucchini, diced
1 large russet potato, peeled and diced
½ pound fresh green beans, sliced about 1 inch long
½ pound ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or 6 canned whole tomatoes, drained and chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup pasta, either small shapes or vermicelli broken into 1-inch lengths; or ½ cup long-grain rice
¼ of a small green or Savoy cabbage, slivered
3- 4 large leaves chard, slivered
For the pistou: Combine the garlic, basil and salt in the food processor, and, with the motor running, pour in the olive oil. Scrape into a bowl and stir in the cheese. Set aside until the soup is done.
For the soup: Drain the soaked beans and add them to a saucepan with the bay leaves and 2 cups of the stock. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until the beans are tender but not falling apart, 40 minutes to 1 hour. When done, set aside in their liquid.
In the bottom of a heavy soup pot, combine the pancetta, garlic, parsley and onion with the oil. (If you are not using pancetta, you may wish to add another tablespoon or two of oil to the mixture.) Set over medium-low heat and cook gently, stirring, until the vegetables are tender. Do not let them brown.
Once the vegetables are soft, add the leeks, carrots, zucchini, potato, green beans and tomatoes. Stir in the remaining 4 cups stock (or water) and bring to a simmer. Cook gently, covered, for about 20 minutes, or until the carrots and potatoes are tender.
Stir in the beans with their cooking liquid, and add salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Let the soup simmer for another 5 minutes, then stir in the pasta or rice and continue cooking just until the pasta is al dente or the rice is tender. Add the slivered cabbage and chard, mix well, and remove from the heat. The greens will cook in the residual heat of the soup.
Stir in a big spoonful of the basil sauce right before serving, tasting once more and adjusting the seasoning. Serve more of the sauce and more grated cheese at the table.
"Virgin Territory: Exploring the World of Olive Oil" by Nancy Harmon Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015)