Summer Minestrone With Fresh Basil
You can finish this hearty summer soup with slivered fresh basil or with pistou, the Provençal version of pesto. (It’s pesto without the pine nuts.) A Parmesan rind, simmered in the soup and then removed, provides great depth of flavor without additional fat. On a hot summer day in Italy, the soup might be served at room temperature or just barely warm.
To make the soup:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 4 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
- 1 pound tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped, or 1 (14-ounce) can chopped tomatoes, with liquid
- 1 medium turnip, peeled and diced
- 3/4 pound zucchini, diced
- A bouquet garni consisting of 1 Parmesan rind, 1 bay leaf, 3 sprigs parsley and 3 sprigs thyme, tied together with kitchen string or bundled into a piece of cheesecloth
- 1 (15-ounce) can cannellini or borlotti beans, drained and rinsed
- 6 ounces green beans, cut into 1-inch lengths
- 1/2 cup soup pasta, such as elbow macaroni or broken spaghetti, or 3/4 cup penne
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup slivered fresh basil leaves, or 1/2 cup pistou (recipe below)
- Freshly grated Parmesan for garnish
1. Heat the olive oil to medium-low range in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven, and add the onion, carrots and celery. Cook, stirring about three minutes until vegetables begin to soften, and add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Continue to cook, stirring often, until tender, about five more minutes. Add the garlic, stir together for about a minute, then mix in the tomatoes. Keep stirring until the tomatoes have cooked down and smell fragrant, about 10 minutes. Stir in two quarts water, the turnip, zucchini and the bouquet garni, and bring to a simmer. Add 2 teaspoons salt. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 45 minutes. Stir in the canned beans. Taste and adjust salt. Remove the bouquet garni.
2. While the soup is simmering, bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add the green beans. Boil five minutes, until tender but still bright green. Transfer to a bowl of ice water, allow to cool, and drain. Retain the cooking water in case you want to thin the soup.
3. Add the pasta to the soup and simmer another 10 minutes, or until the pasta is cooked al dente. Stir the cooked green beans into the soup. Grind in pepper, and adjust seasonings. Soup should be savory and rich-tasting.
4. Stir in the basil or pistou, or place a spoonful of pistou in each bowl and stir in. Serve in wide soup bowls, with a sprinkling of Parmesan over the top.
Yield: Serves six to eight
Advance preparation: The soup can be made through step 2 a day or two ahead. It improves overnight. If you’re making the soup ahead, cook the pasta separately and add to the soup, along with the green beans on the day you are serving it.
To make the pistou:
- 2 cups basil leaves
- 2 garlic cloves, blanched if desired
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 ounce Parmesan, freshly grated (1/4 cup tightly packed)
Grind the basil leaves to a paste in a mortar and pestle with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Remove from the mortar and pestle, and place the garlic and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in the mortar. Grind the garlic to a paste. Return the ground basil and slowly work in the olive oil. Stir in the Parmesan.
Alternatively, place all of the ingredients except the Parmesan in a food processor fitted with the steel blade or a blander, and blend until smooth. Stir in the Parmesan.