French Soupe Au Pistou

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It's no secret that I adore France.  I do.  Maybe it's my french cajun heritage or that I went to a school where french was mandatory for eight years.  I don't know.  I just do.

I could probably go to France for all of my vacations - covering North to South and then East to West.  I love their café au lait, their brioche, their paté de foie gras.  I love their markets, their scarves, and their soaps.

It seems every time I reach for a dish to cook, it is a french dish.  This soup is no exception and is indeed a very classic french soup - Soupe Au Pistou.  As I was making this soup, I realized it is basically a dish the derives from the necessity to use up what is seasonally growing in the garden.

Fennel is my new find for the summer.  I love fennel.  I love the earthiness of this beautiful vegetable.  I first used it in a chicken dish I made a few months ago and my taste buds rejoiced.

I love that I am teaching my children to speak french and the language will move down another generation.  This soup is a staple of Provençal cuisine.  And...well...I do love Provence.

We shaved smoked gouda cheese on top and tore off chunks of crusty bread to dip into this flavorful soup.  The pistou is a mixture of garlic, basil, and olive oil puréed as a garnish added to the soup right before serving.  It is a pungent mixture and adds quite an impact to this warming soup.

We're on our last week here before my daughter's senior year of high school begins.  My son's first year of high school also begins.  I had no idea we would homeschool all the way through high school.  I shake my head each and every day that as a family we have taken such a different academic path.

I'm taking deep breaths as outside classes are arranged {I do not homeschool math or science}, transcripts are organized, extra-curriculars are on the calendar, and school supplies are at the ready.  Every year, I tell myself I cannot do this.  It is so difficult.  The burden of failure is too great.

Making warming soups like this one and spending time as a family at the table {with no school books} help me to work on being a better listener to my children.  As I am defined as  a mother of teens at this point, I see that the skill I need the most, is the skill I rank the weakest.  Listening.  They mostly need parents who will listen to their thoughts and opinions. No judgement calls are really required. No more telling them to tuck a shirt in, make that "w" a little clearer, or rinse all of the shampoo out of their hair.  Just listening.  

Sounds simple but - it isn't.

It is my love of travel and the cultural experiences I can relive and explore through recipes from around the world that keep my worries in balance.  

This Soupe au Pistou,  originated from the beautiful area of Provence, France.  We spent some time with the kids in Provence last year.  Here are some of the highlights of this journey so you can see where this beautiful soup originated.

On the advice of some well-traveled friends, we chose a spot in the tiny little village of Saignon.  I cannot say enough about this spot.  It was charming and quaint.  Because it was September the air was cool and the windy little village roads were empty of the tourist hoards. 

We had an apartment that exceeded our expectations of a Provençal experience at the Auberge du Presbytère in Saignon. 

Baskets of harvested lavendar filled the markets all over Provence.  A mother kissed her tiny little daughter {below} and she trotted off to school with her pocketed red backpack in tow.  In Saignon, tiny little restaurants {below} were tucked into vine covered restaurants with menu boards boasting the fresh ingredients for that night's dinner.

This old man looks like he walked straight off of the set of "Old Man and the Sea".  He sat comfortably tying up his lavendar bundles to sell at the local markets.

These men were having an animated game of the french game called boule on a lazy Sunday afternoon behind the church in Saignon.  

My favorite of all of the small villages in Provence was Bonnieux.  The market was in town on the day we visited.  I just couldn't drink in enough of the beauty of this little place.  I wanted to sit with this frenchman {above} at his little red table with my own café au lait and watch he people go by.

The markets were hustling and bustling with locals going about their routine market errands for the week.  Markets are the pulse of life in these villages.  It's where people not only shop but socialize and spend time together as a community.

This mother with her two children dangling off of her bicycle were heading to the morning market to do their shopping. 

The Brioche Dauphinoise is made in the Provence area of France.  It is topped with candied almonds and very delicious.

We spent some time at the bustling and vibrant village of L'Isle sur la Sorgue.  This herb crusted sausage didn't appeal to me on first sight.  After trying a sample, however, I was amazed at the savory flavors.

After walking up and down the market streets and watching all of the frenzied activity of the market, we stopped at a quaint brasserie for a bite to eat.  This plate of roasted duck and frites (potatoes) was a treat indeed.  Sitting outdoors on market day, enjoying this "plat du jour" and watching the colors and sounds of market day whiz by rank with one of my all time pleasures in life.

When planning this trip, I organized the village visits by market days.  Each village set out for that day was scheduled to have their market in town.  Most markets open early in the morning and are ready to close up early afternoon.  It did mean waking up early and getting out the door but it was well worth it.

Having spent our first hot and sultry summer in Texas, we were anxious to travel during a crisp and cool time of year.  The air was brisk in the mornings and sunny during the day.  The vineyards were bursting with purple grapes hanging heavily on their vines ready for harvesting. Back in Saignon, the little auberge had a warming fire lit and ready for their dinner guests.

The Roman aqueducts of Avignon and the colosseum in Aix-en-Provence were grand statements of historical importance in days gone by.  

Passing between these tree lined country roads, we headed to St. Remy de Provence.  It was a stunning drive and we enjoyed stops at little villages like Les Baux, Gourdes and Rousillon on our return.

Soupe au Pistou {adapted from The French Country Table}
Serves 4-6

3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 small fennel bulb, quartered, cored, and chopped
2 zucchini, chopped
2 tomatoes, skinned, seeded, and chopped {Snippet's notes:  I just used all of the tomato, skin on}
2 quarts vegetable or chicken stock
a sprig of thyme
2 cups cannellini
2 cups canned kidney beans, drained
6 oz. green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 oz. spaghetti, broken into pieces
1 2/3 cups grated aged Gouda cheese
coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 garlic cloves
leaves from a small bunch of basil
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or casserole dish.  Add the onion, fennel, and zucchini and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until browned.  Add the potatoes, tomatoes, stock, and thyme.  Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer gently for 15 minutes.

Add the cannellini and kidney beans and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes more.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.  Add the green beans and the spaghetti and cook for about 10 minutes more, until the pasta is tender.  Cover and let stand.  Ideally, the soup should rest for at least a few hours before serving, or make one day in advance and refrigerate.
{The pistou is best made when ready to serve the soup.  It is best fresh and the basil and garlic should not be cooked}

To make the pistou, put the garlic, basil, and oil in a small food processor and blend until well chopped.  You can also make it using a mortar and pestle, starting with the garlic and finishing with the oil, added gradually.  

To serve, heat the soup and pass around the pistou and cheese, to be stirred in to taste.

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