I love a good vegetable soup, and one of the best is the magnificent Provencale soup with pesto (Soupe au Pistou). Traditionally this soup is prepared with smoked bacon, but I find that it is unecessary given the generous amounts of garlic, cheese and the bright beautiful vegetables. I actually prefer small tender field or cowpeas in this soup instead of the standard red or great northern, and I think butter beans would work as well. This soup is surprisingly filling and the punch of pesto stirred in right before serving along with croutons makes this a complete meatless meal.
4 zucchini, diced
4 carrots of various colors, minced
3 yukon gold or butter potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 tomatoes, stemmed but kept whole and unpeeled
2 small yellow onions, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 handfuls fresh green beens, stemmed and roughly chopped
2 cups fresh field peas, or 1 1/4 cup dried field peas (like Sea Island) or cowpeas soaked overnight
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 cups vegetable broth
3 cups water, plus more as needed
1 small piece of rind from parmesan reggiano
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
1 loaf bread of your choice, cut into large cubes
1. Preheat oven to 400F.
2. In a large, heavy bottom soup pot, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the onion and garlic and stir with a wooden spoon until soft. Add the carrots and stir for another minute or two.
3. Add the salt, pepper, zucchini, potatoes, peas, and green beans, then pour in the vegetable broth and water. Drop in all three tomatoes and the parmesan cheese rind. When the soup reaches a simmer, cover, turn down to medium low, and simmer for 15 minutes.
4. While the soup is cooking, make the croutons. Toss the bread cubes with the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil and spread out on a heavy, rimmed, baking pan. Toast in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes. Using a spatula, flip the croutons and return the pan to the oven for about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and set on a rack to cool.
5. Using a slotted spoon, carefully remove the tomatoes from the soup and place in medium bowl. Check the level of liquid in the pot and add add more water to cover the vegetables, if necessary.
6. After removing the tomatoes from the pot, wait for 5 minutes, then strip the peel from the tomatoes and discard the peel. Crush the tomatoes with a wooden spoon and return to the soup pot. Cover and simmer for another 5 minutes, then turn off the heat. Remove the cheese rind and discard. Then make the pesto.
1 cup of fresh basil leaves, tightly packed
5 cloves fresh garlic, roughly chopped
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
In a food processor, pulse the garlic until well minced, then add the basil leaves and pulse everything together with a pinch of fine kosher salt until it makes a rough paste. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil and pulse until well combined. Pour the pesto in a small bowl and stir in the parmesan cheese.
Ladle the soup into soup bowls. Drop a tablespoon of pesto in each soup bowl and top with croutons.