Provencal Winter Bean and Vegetable Soup (Winter Soupe au Pistou)

By Andrea Most

In December, cooking blogs and websites are full of recipes for sweet treats and fancy dishes for entertaining. But you can’t eat those every day! This soup is just the thing to have simmering on the back of the stove while you are baking and preparing holiday feasts.  It easily serves six as a complete meal with a winter green salad and a loaf of crusty bread.  If you have a really big pot, you can double it and keep it in the fridge for up to five days, heating it up whenever you need a quick and healthy warm bowl and are tired of cooking.

INGREDIENTS

8 oz / 250g dried white beans. 

Dried beans (as opposed to canned) are crucial to this recipe as they create the broth.  I usually use two kinds: small white navy beans and larger cannellini or cranberry beans. Both are generally available in the bulk bins at Karma. 

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 bay leaves

A few branches of fresh thyme (if you can find it, if not, you can use a teaspoon of dried thyme)

1 leek, white and light green part only, halved lengthwise, washed well, and cut into thin rings

1 medium onion, peeled and cut into thin half-moons

4-6 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

2 – 2 ½ lbs (~1 kg) of winter root vegetables, peeled and seeded as necessary, and diced all the same size 

I like to use about a ½ pound of winter squash, a ½ pound of potatoes, a few carrots, and a good size parsnip, but you can also include sweet potatoes, turnips, celery root or whatever you have in the fridge.

1 small can or jar diced tomatoes (14 oz / 400 g)

10 cups of water (for a vegetarian soup) or a mixture of 5 cups water and 5 cups unsalted chicken broth. Both options are delicious.

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

About 50g of small pasta (the bulk macaroni from Karma works well, or break up some angel hair spaghetti)

½ cup freshly grated cheese (Gruyere is traditional, but pretty much any of the aged Monforte cheeses Karma sells would be perfect)

½ cup Pistou or other pesto-like sauce (see Note, below)

  1. The night before you plan to make the soup, rinse the beans and put them in a bowl of water to soak for at least 12 hours.  When you are ready to cook, drain and rinse the beans in a colander.
  1. In a large soup pot, heat the oil on medium heat, and then add leeks, onions, garlic, bay leaves, thyme and a ½ tsp of salt. Sauté over medium-low heat until onions are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes.
  1. Add drained beans and stir to blend.  Then add the winter root vegetables and the tomatoes and sauté, stirring, for about 5 minutes.
  1. Add 10 cups of water and/or broth and a teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, then partially cover the pot, turn the heat down and simmer gently for 1 ½ to 2 hours, until the beans are creamy and tender. The beans may cook at different rates and some may be mushy while others are still firm.  That’s ok, just be sure to simmer the soup until the most recalcitrant beans are fully cooked!
  1. For the pasta, you have a choice. If you expect to eat all the soup in one sitting, just add the pasta when the beans are ready and simmer for another ten minutes or so until pasta is cooked through.  If you expect to store the soup in the fridge, the pasta will keep absorbing liquid and eventually you will have no broth left, and some very mushy pasta! So if you plan to have leftovers, you may want to boil the pasta separately, drain it and toss it with some olive oil. Then add a little into each bowl as you serve and store the rest in the fridge for another day. 
  1. Taste the soup for salt and pepper before serving. Remove the bay leaves.
  1. To serve:  Put a spoonful of pistou or aioli in each bowl (and also some pasta, if you cooked it separately).  Ladle the soup over and finish with a generous sprinkling of grated cheese.

NOTE about Pistou:  This soup requires a hit of fresh flavour in the bowl to come alive.  The traditional garnish is pistou, which is a paste of 2 minced garlic cloves, a dash of salt, a cup of loosely packed basil leaves, and a ¼ cup of olive oil, pureed in a food processor or by hand with a mortar and pestle (mash garlic and salt first, then basil, then add oil, slowly.)  BUT basil is not in season in December!  If you happened to freeze some pesto back in the summer, this is the time to use it.  Or you can use the locally-grown basil microgreens Karma often carries. To simplify life, you can also use any of the Sunflower Kitchen pestos you will find in the fridge at Karma. And you can also experiment with any other spunky, garlicky flavor paste you have on hand. 

Homemade Pistou

Another great traditional option is a garlicky mayo called aioli. Just be sure to use local organic eggs for this sauce as it includes raw yolks.

Inspired by Patricia Wells’ “Winter Pistou” in At Home in Provence