soupe au pistou
(vegetable soup with garlic, basil, and herbs)
One of my experimental projects while here in Paris is to cook some of Julia Child's classic recipes in our apartment. The catch? I only have a hot plate, toaster oven, and microwave. Here's how it's going so far.
Gathering the ingredients for this soup, I discovered a beautiful thing. If you remember from our very first day here, a woman got extremely frustrated with me over a couple of unmarked bell peppers. Since then, I have avoided all loose vegetables for fear of being huffed at again. That is, until I got wise and started stalking people who were buying them. It's all about how you sidle up next to them, fascinated by how red the tomatoes are while actually watching their every movement. What I discovered has been a revelation for our dinners.
There is an entire scale and computer in the vegetable section where you weigh your vegetables, tell the computer what they are, and have it print a label for the checker to scan. Hah! Hello package free vegetables! Oh how I have missed you.
Once I got home, the process proved very simple, beginning with a long boil to cook the diced potatoes, carrots, and leek white. In the last twenty minutes in goes chopped green beans, broken spaghetti, one slice of stale bread, and a pinch of saffron. And salt and pepper of course.
Then, just before serving, you prepare the pistou, which is tomato paste, smashed garlic, basil, pepper, olive oil, and a dash of sharp grated cheese. Whipping a cup of your vegetable broth into the paste infuses it with all of the pungent freshness of the pistou which then spreads out into the entire soup when you add it to the pot; the whole dish comes alive.
When cooking on a hot plate, it is vital to work mise en place. As soon as you turn it on, it will be very hot and there is almost no room for dallying.
Get ready for a lot of beeping. I am slowly improving in this regard, but dodging the pan to keep it at just the temperature you want makes fantastic eggs, and sets off a series of "warning, your pot is not on the element" alarms
Saffron is the most expensive food on the planet. Literally. It didn't have a label on it in the store and it proved to be a fifth of our grocery bill for four days at 12€. Absolutely worth it in my book because it's delicious and now I get to find new recipes to make with it (risotto, anyone?) but something to be aware of.
All said and done this is an extremely comforting soup. Truly a hug in a bowl and particularly welcome after eight hours of walking the width of Paris. Add some candle light, a little Brahms, some local red wine, and a crust of toasted bread, and it almost might become the best food you've ever tasted.
What's your favorite comfort food? Let me know on facebook.