This year’s most VIRTUOUS Best Recipe.

The book:  Recipes from my French Grandmother, by Carole Clements and Elizabeth Wolf-Cohen (Lorenz Books, $18.99)

The recipe:  Provençal vegetable soup with basil pistou

Why I tried it: This is a “little of this, little of that” soup I tested in August, and I had lots of odd leftover vegetables and basil from the garden.  Even though it was still pretty warm out and I am usually only a soup-eater in cold weather, it seemed like a good way to use what I had on hand.  Also, I was Setting an Example for the children by trying to prove you can make something nice out of practically nothing.

Why I loved it:  I had a lot of faith in my vegetables coming together and behaving themselves, with a little careful chopping and sweating, but I  didn’t expect them to sing.  That was before I even dolloped on the pistou.  The pistou added a nimbus of spicy basil fragrance you could drown in, and it’s the reason I had seconds – and thirds – and even, to be honest, a tiny bit of fourths too.

Estimated preparation time: Put on some music and give yourself a good hour for chopping (this can happen while the beans are cooking), followed by an hour of simmering.  The good news is, this makes a lot, you can store it/freeze it, and it gets better every day.


Provençal Vegetable SoupProvençal Vegetable Soup with Pistou
Serves 6–8
There’s no need to be overly literal about the ingredients list. If you don’t have fava or navy beans, it’s OK to use other small beans – flageolets would be nice. (Bigger beans will need longer.) You could use even canned beans in a pinch, though the flavor isn’t as fine. You could use different vegetables. But do take the trouble to chop small dice – it makes a difference.  You can skip the pistou if you’re vegan, but otherwise definitely don’t.

1 1⁄2 cups fresh fava beans, shelled, or 3⁄4 cup dried haricot (navy) beans, soaked overnight
1⁄2 tsp dried herbes de Provence
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 small or 1 large leek, finely sliced
1 celery stick, finely sliced
2 carrots, finely diced
2 small potatoes, finely diced
4oz green beans
5 cups water
1 cup shelled peas, fresh or frozen
2 small zucchini, finely chopped
3 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
Handful of spinach leaves, cut into thin ribbons
Sprigs of fresh basil, to garnish

For the pistou
1 or 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1⁄2 cup (packed) basil leaves
4 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1. To make the pistou, put the garlic, basil and Parmesan cheese in a food processor and process until smooth, scraping down the sides once. With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil through the feed tube. Or, alternatively, pound the garlic, basil and cheese in a mortar and pestle and stir in the oil.

2. To make the soup, if using dried haricot beans, place them in a pan and cover with water. Boil vigorously for 10 minutes and drain. Place the par-boiled beans, or fresh beans if using, in a pan with the herbes de Provence and one of the garlic cloves. Add water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer over a medium-low heat until tender, about 10 minutes for fresh beans and about 1 hour for dried beans. Set aside in the cooking liquid.

3. Heat the oil in a large pan or flameproof casserole. Add the onion and leeks, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion just softens.

4. Add the celery, carrots and the other garlic clove and cook, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring.

5. Add the potatoes, green beans and water, then season lightly with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, skimming any foam that rises to the surface, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer gently for 10 minutes

6. Add the zucchini, tomatoes and peas together with the reserved beans and their cooking liquid and simmer for 25–30 minutes, or until all the vegetables are tender. Add the spinach and simmer for 5 minutes. Season the soup and swirl a spoonful of pistou into each bowl. Garnish with basil and serve