Monday, July 14, 2008

La Soupe au Pistou

Marie-Christine, one of Chef Érick's friends here in Arles, had been hinting for several days about how much she loves la soupe au pistou. She owns and runs a little café and tabac in the center of town and we stop there often for a coffee or something cold to drink. So, one morning last week, Érick and I made the rounds in town and invited Gilles, who owns a used book store, Monique and Didier, who run a little antique shop, and Marie-Christine to dinner. Gilles asked if it would be okay if he brought two friends who were visiting from Paris. Bien sûr!
I helped Érick cut up the vegetables for the soup and set the table. I am, after all, his assistante! The house that the family lives in has 4 levels, all accessed by a winding staircase. It is connected to the B&B by the kitchen we use for cooking lessons. The kitchen was a stable at one point in time. There are still rings in the wall where the animals were tied. That seems a very fitting history for where we work with clients. It is a very comforting place.
The soup was a great success. Marie-Christine prefers hers a bit chilled so Érick had put a bowl of soup for her in the refrigerator. She ate every bite of it, three bowls. And for days afterwards, talked about it. As she says, everyone has a different recipe for soupe au pistou, but Chef Érick's is just a cut above the others. It has a different je ne sais quoi. We brought out jars of tampenade and other spreads we buy every Saturday at the market, served them with toasted French bread as an appetizer. A nice local chilled white wine brought by Gilles was excellent. More bread was served with the soup. Dessert was in the form of leftover tartelettes made with a hazelnut crust and chocolate ganache filling. A nice organic red was served at that point. Monique wasn't feeling well and didn't make it to dinner, but I sent some dessert to her. I hoped that would make her feel better!
Enjoy the soup and visit Seth and Craig at Wine Authorities for the right wine. They have received 500 cases of French wine, just in time for today, Bastille Day. Vive la France!

La Soupe au Pistou- Vegetable Soup with Pesto

Serves 6

For the soup: (vegetables should be cut in a size that fits into a soup spoon)
200 grams (1 cup) fresh white beans or dried beans soaked in water overnight
150 grams (1 cup) green string beans cut in thirds
200 grams chopped carrots
250 grams (1 1/2 cups) chopped zucchini
250 grams chopped new red potatoes
One leek chopped coarsely
5 tomatoes, quartered
2 liters (2 generous quarts) water
salt to taste

For the pesto:
3 garlic cloves, pureed (this is best done on a plate with lemon juice- take the peeled clove and scrape it across the flattened prongs of a fork, producing a fine puree; the acidity of the lemon makes the garlic easily digestible)
1 bouquet of fresh basil, chopped
1 cup olive oil

Place all the vegetables, except the tomatoes, in a pot. Add the water. Cook until the vegetables are tender, about 30-45 minutes, adding the tomatoes during the last 20 minutes. If you add them at the beginning, they will interfere with the taste of the beans!
In a mortar and pestle, crush the chopped basil into the olive oil, add the pureed garlic and crush and pound until you have a paste (10-15 minutes). Put aside to serve at the table.
To serve: In wide, low soup bowls, ladle a portion of the soup and a tablespoon or two of pesto in the middle. You can also place a bowl of grated gruyère or emmental cheese on the table for people to serve themselves. Of course, the pesto is also really good on the French bread!

Hazelnut Sablée Crust and Chocolate Ganache Tarts

For the crust (makes enough for a dozen little tarts or a large single tart):

2 cups flour
1 cup toasted and ground nuts (hazelnuts, walnuts or pecans)
¼ lb plus 3 tablespoons sweet butter
1/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 egg
1 tablespoon water (if necessary)

In a large mixing bowl, put in the flour and toasted, ground nuts, the sugar, the salt and the butter, cut in small pieces. Push up your sleeves, wash your hands, take off your rings, and with your fingers work the butter into the dry ingredients until you get a sandy texture that, if you squeeze a handful will hold together. Into this mixture, break your whole egg and work in the egg with your hands lightly, then, as needed, add a tablespoon of water, work the dough quickly together and pat it into a ball. Wrap it in plastic wrap and put it into the refrigerator to chill.
At a minimum 2 hours later, remove the dough from the fridge and put it onto a work surface. At this point, preheat your oven to 350F/160C. Sprinkle some flour on the work surface and start to knead your dough. Press it down and fold it over, press it and fold it, for about 2-5 minutes. You want it to start to hold together and no longer crumble apart too easily. When making tartlets, take a small amount of dough, roll it out and place it in the greased tart pan and press into the pan. Do not make the dough too thick. It works better for small ones, rather than one large one, as it is not easy to cut once cooled after cooking.
To preheat the crust, poke the crust with a fork multiple times, place into your preheated oven and bake just until it begins to brown, about 5-10 minutes. Cool before filling.

For the chocolate ganache:

300 grams (12 oz) superior quality dark chocolate
225 grams (9 oz) heavy cream
90 grams (4 oz) butter, cut in small pieces

Chop the chocolate into very small pieces. Put into bowl. In a saucepan, heat the cream to boiling point. Remove from heat and pour slowly over the chocolate. Stir gently until the chocolate melts, then add the bits of butter, one at a time, stirring gently and continually until the chocolate starts to thicken. Pour into the shells. Let cool before eating.

Bon appétit!

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