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For Christmas, I got another one of Ina Garten’s wonderful cookbooks, Barefoot in Paris.  It’s filled with delectable looking yet pretty doable French country recipes.  Some are based on dishes she’s had in Paris, but most are more simple (well simple for Ina) comforting recipes found outside the capital.  What’s fun about it all is that even country dishes from France seem somewhat elegant.  Elegant yet understated.

I couldn’t wait to try out something in all those delicious pages, and since it’s soup season and it’s finally starting to feel like winter around here, this one fit the bill.  Plus I was looking for a way to use up the rest of our rib roast from Christmas that was hanging out in the freezer.

In her book, Ina says she first made this old-fashioned soup in the 1970s while studying Julia Child’s cookbook and learning about French cooking.  Anything inspired by Julia Child, a master of French cooking, has to be good.  I halved her recipe (three quarts of stock!  Really, Ina?) and added the beef, and this version was born.  It’s also known as Soupe au Pistou.  Pistou is a French version of Italian pesto, plus tomato paste and minus the nuts.  And believe you me, the pistou makes all the difference.

Provençal Vegetable Beef Soup – Soupe au Pistou (adapted from Barefoot in Paris)

For the soup:

  • 1 tbsp good olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion (1 onion)
  • 1 cup chopped leeks, white and light green parts (1-2 leeks)
  • 1 1/2 cups 1/2-inch-diced unpeeled boiling potatoes (1/2 pound)
  • 1 1/2 cups 1/2-inch-diced carrots (1/2 pound)
  • 1/4 pound (or more if you want) cooked and diced prime rib, plus bones if you have them (you could also use short ribs, chuck roast or beef tenderloin)
  • 3/4 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 6-8 cups homemade chicken stock or canned broth
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads (saffron is suuuper expensive so I had to omit it)
  • 1/4 pound haricots verts (French string beans), ends removed and cut in half
  • 2 ounces spaghetti, broken in pieces
  • 1/2 cup Pistou
  • Freshly grated Parmesan, for serving

For the Pistou:

  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 12 large basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 cup good olive oil

I started by making the pistou.  Place the garlic, tomato paste, basil, and Parmesan in the bowl of a food processor and puree.  (Alas, I do not have a food processor so I used a blender.  Maybe 2012 will bring me one!)  With the motor running, slowly pour the olive oil down the feed tube to make a paste. Pack into a container, pour a film of olive oil on top, and close the lid.

Now for the soup.

Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot, add the onions, and saute over low heat for 10 minutes, or until the onions are translucent. Add the leeks, potatoes, carrots, salt, and pepper and saute over medium heat for another 5 minutes.

Add the chicken stock, beef and saffron (if you have it), and bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, or until all the vegetables are tender.

Add the haricots verts and spaghetti, bring to a simmer, and cook for 15 more minutes.  Remove the bones if you used any.

To serve, whisk 2 tbsp of the pistou into the hot soup, then season to taste. Depending on the saltiness of your chicken stock, you may need to add up to another tablespoon of salt.  I didn’t need any more though. I did need to add a little more chicken stock because I think I added more than 2 ounces of spaghetti and it absorbed a lot of the liquid.

Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and more pistou.

This is hands down the best soup I’ve ever had.  I tasted it with and without the pistou, and while it’s still great without it, the level of flavor is taken up a big notch with the pistou.  It’s the subtle yet complex blend of tomato, basil and garlic that really elevates the flavor of this soup.

The original recipe doesn’t have beef, but I’m confident it’s just as flavorful.

The whole pot of soup was gone in three days.  I have to give props to the French, especially for the pistou, and to Ina for executing the whole thing so beautifully.