from Patrice Wells At Home in Provence

Fall should be here, but I tend to cook ahead of the season. Tonight’s meal is a case in point. I wanted to make a hearty autumnal soup to stand up to a hearty piece of homemade whole-grain bread and a glass of wine. Even though the crisp air doesn’t yet last past 9 am, I’m ready for the fall and it hasn’t arrived. So, I plough ahead anyway in my own private cooking calendar.

This soup-like vegetable stew is not the recipe I had in mind when I thought of introducing Patricia Wells into this blog. I was waiting for a chance to execute her Seven-Hour Leg of Lamb or her Spaghetti “Risotto”, two recipes that demand revisiting again and again. But I wanted it to be a fall day today. It wasn’t.

Yesterday I set up a batch of the Slow-Rise Bread, according to Ann’s whole wheat specifications. The last of the potted basil plant on my deck went into the pistou. I did the shopping for vegetables and beans. Today, after I finished the puzzle, read the paper, painted more of the trim in my front room, and attended to some work, I made this recipe and took care of the bread. I think both came out well. Like Ann’s bread, the jump on this boule wasn’t as high as the all-white flour batch, but it turned out really well. I make a really wet, sticky dough.

As for Patricia Wells, I’ll save my thoughts for the next time I do one of her reliable, delicious, and utterly simple recipes. She never disappoints.

Here’s what she recommends:

Winter Pistou

8 oz (250g) dried small white beans
8 oz (250g) dried cranberry (borlotti) beans
½ (12.5 cl) extra-virgin olive oil
bouquet garni: several fresh bay leaves and several sprigs of summer savory and thyme, tied securely with twine
2 medium leeks, white and tender green parts only, cut into thin rings
2 medium onions, peeled and cut into thin half-moons
1 clove plump, fresh garlic, peeled and quartered lengthwise
sea salt to taste
1 lb (500g) Hubbard or pumpkin squash, seeded, peeled, and diced
4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into thick half-moons
1 lb (500g) potatoes, peeled and cubed
8 oz (250g) turnips or parsnips, peeled and cubed
1 small can (14 ½ oz; 400g) imported whole plum tomatoes in juice
¾ cup (60g) angel’s hair pasta, broken into small pieces
1 recipe Pistou
1 cum (4 oz; 125g) freshly grated imported Gruyère cheese

1. Rinse the white beans and cranberry beans, picking over them to remove any pebbles. Place the beans in a large bowl, add boiling water to cover, and set aside for 1 hour. Drain the beans, discarding the water.

2. In a 10-quart (10-litre) stockpot, combine the oil, bouquet garni, leeks, onions, garlic, and 1 tsp of salt. Soften over medium heat, stirring regularly for about 10 mins. Add the drained beans, stir to blend, and cook for 2 mins more. Add the squash, carrots, potatoes, turnips and tomatoes; stir to blend, and cook 5 mins more. Add 5 quarts (5 l) of water, season with salt, and simmer gently, uncovered, until the beans are tender, 1 ½ to 2 hours. (Cooking time will vary according to the freshness of the beans.) Taste for seasoning. Add the pasta and boil until the pasta is cooked, about 10 mins more. Taste for seasoning.

3. Serve the soup very hot, passing the Pistou or Aïoli and cheese to blend into the soup.

Six to eight servings.
Wine: A Provençal rosé.

Pistou

4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
fine sea salt to taste
2 cups (50 cl) loosely packed fresh basil leaves and flowers
½ cup (12.5 cl) extra-virgin olive oil

Place the minced garlic salt and basil in the bowl of a food processor and process to a paste. Add the oil and process again. Taste for seasoning. Stir again before serving.

3. transfer to a small bowl. Serve immediately. The sauce can be stored, covered and refrigerated, for 1 day, for frozen for up to 6 months. Bring to room temperature and stir again before serving.

My version:

I followed her recipe pretty closely, except that I soaked the beans overnight, cooked them for about an hour, drained them, and then proceeded as she recommended. At no point did it cook for 2 hours. The next time I make this soup, I’ll try it her way. My reservation has nothing to do with the recipe. I can’t count on the freshness of the dried beans I buy. It’s often happened that I’ll attempt to cook beans as she recommends here only to find that they are old beans and take ages to soften. I have learned never to add salt to beans until they are soft. Experience has shown me that salt added to beans slows down the cooking process.

Instead of a broth based entirely on water, I used one quart of my own chicken broth, which deepened the flavor.

I made one other innovation. To make the bouquet garnis, I cut off a large piece of an outer skin of a leek. I put thyme and the bay leaves on the leek, folded it into a packet, and tied it with kitchen twine. I believe I learned that from Keller, but I could be wrong.

Last Thoughts:

As I ladled out the remaining soup into containers to go into the freezer, I thought, “This is a hell of a lot of soup.” Halving the proportions might work. The frozen leftovers will undoubtedly last me well into the winter.

Next time, I may substitute Parmigiano Reggiano for the Gruyère. Perhaps I’ll even add a chunk of cheese rind. The Gruyère was very subtle. In the winter, I think I’d like to taste the cheese more. It will give me the illusion of warmth on a winter’s day — in this far too warm climate.