This vegetable soup from Jody Williams' cookbook, Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food, is impeccable—clean, light, and nourishing. It's a mountain of vegetables and beans thrown into a pot with water, salt, and pinch of red pepper. An hour of alchemy later, the veggies have softened and harmonized, and the water is a delicate, succoring broth.
So right now, what you have is very nice vegetable soup, lovely but not exactly exciting. But while the soup has been simmering, you've been turning a mound of basil, a good handful of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, olive oil, and a little salt into pistou, the French answer to Italy's pesto. You top a steaming bowlful with a dollop of the pistou, a drizzle of olive oil, and a grating more of cheese. Restorative perfection. It's the epitome of the harmony that can happen with a thoughtful collision of fresh ingredients.
Why I picked this recipe: This summer soup seemed to capture Buvette's spirit: rustic yet refined, accessible yet complex, folksy yet sophisticated.
What worked: In the classic Provencal soupe au pistou, there is usually pasta added to the soup, but I like the purity of this all-vegetable version. Williams also omits the traditional garlic from the pistou, which I wondered at but ended up appreciating; the basil and cheese are aggressive enough to enliven the soup without overwhelming it.
What didn't: This made a huge pot of soup, around 7 quarts, and there isn't enough pistou to afford every bowl "a big spoonful."
Suggested tweaks: I would go ahead and double the pistou. Worst case, you're left with extra to serve over grilled fish or meat, toss with pasta, or spread on a tomato sandwich.
Excerpted from the book Buvette by Jody Williams. © 2014 by Jody Williams. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.
- Yield:Serves 6 to 8
- Active time: 40 minutes
- Total time:1 hour 30 minutes
- 1 cup dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight and drained
- 1 cup dried cranberry beans, soaked overnight and drained
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- 2 large carrots, peeled and diced
- 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
- 1 fennel bulb, including the light green stems, diced
- One 15-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, seeded and chopped
- 6 large outer escarole leaves, torn into pieces
- 1 large handful green beans, trimmed and cut in half crosswise
- 1 leek, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
- 2 small zucchini, diced
- Pinch red chili flakes, plus more as needed
- Coarse salt
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
Place the soaked beans, all of the vegetables, the chili flakes, and 2 teaspoons of salt into a large soup pot and cover with cold water. Add 2 additional cups of water.
Bring the mixture to a boil, lower the heat, and allow it to simmer until the beans are tender, about 1 hour, adding more water as the soup cooks if it gets too dry or too thick at any point. Season the soup to taste with additional salt and chili flakes, if necessary.
Meanwhile, place the basil leaves in a mortar and use a pestle to crush them with 2 teaspoons of salt. Work in the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the olive oil to make a coarse paste. Alternatively, you can pulse the basil, salt, and Parmigiano-Reggiano together in a food processor and stream in the olive oil to make the paste. Either way, season the pistou with additional salt, if necessary, and set it aside. A thin layer of olive oil poured on top will prevent the pistou from browning.
Serve the soup hot, topped with a generous drizzle of olive oil, a big spoonful of the pistou, and a handful of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.