Soupe au Pistou
Provence and Northern Italy have a lot in common and indeed Nice was once Nizza and part of Italy, just as Provence got its name under the rule of Rome. This provencal classic, Soupe au Pistou, in Italy would be Minestre de Verdure (or Minestrone) with Pesto, and both cover a wide range of possibilities. The soup in either case is made from whatever vegetables are in season at the time, and hence varies throughout the summer as different vegetables come and go. This is a late season one with tomatoes, haricot beans and borlotti, all of which at least in this country come at the end of summer as the garden gives up the last and best of its summer treasures before passing into autumn.
The principal vegetables are cut into dice and sweated in olive oil starting with onions, then carrot, celery, courgette, and potato. Green haricot beans are sliced into 1/4 inch chunks, and borlotti or any other shelling beans you have are shelled and added whole, and then water is added to cover. Tomatoes are skinned and roughly chopped and added to the broth, and anything green and leafy, in this case tuscan black kale (“chou palmier” in French), is thinly sliced into “chiffonade” and thrown in too. Cook for about half an hour, longer if the borlotti which are the slowest to cook seem to need it, then season with salt and pepper.
The french pistou is simpler than the Genoese version and suits the soup better. Pound half a head of garlic in a mortar with a pinch or two of salt, which draws moisture and helps the garlic to turn into a smooth paste – this dressing is a type of salmoriglio. Add a generous handful of basil leaves and pound to a puree. Don’t add pine nuts or parmesan as you would for pesto genovese, just stir in olive oil which should be fully absorbed by the puree, until the volume is roughly doubled. Serve the soup with a dessert spoonful of this to each plate, and some good sourdough bread and you have a meal in one plate that is as delicious as it is restorative, satisfying and healthy.