Thursday, August 21, 2014

Soupe au Pistou, à l'Americaine du Sud

You have basil in your garden. You have green beans.  You harvested some potatoes and carrots a month or so ago, and they are in the bottom drawer of your refrigerator. Maybe you even planted some Southern peas, and they are about ready now.  You can make soupe au pistou!

According to Julia Child, soupe au pistou is made in the south of France every summer when the fresh white beans and basil are in the markets. The market sellers remind you to "faite le bon pistou." We're in the south of the US, but we have everything we need, with a few substitutions. Instead of fresh shell beans, I use Lady peas, which I grew for the first time this summer.  Lady peas are tiny white peas in the Southern pea family, like black-eyed peas. They are not related botanically to green English peas, and they are a lot easier to grow in our hot summers.

They are easy to grow, but they take some time to shell out.  Plus, sometimes they mature unevenly, so that you have some that are hard and dry in their brown shells, and some that are soft and plump in their green or yellow shells.  When you shell them out, you might have some of each. What I do is shell them all out, dry and fresh, and then soak them together overnight in water, in the refrigerator. Then the dry ones plump up and cook just as fast as the fresh ones.

Here's another pea-shelling tip: when you're shelling them out, some bits of the shell might fall in with the peas, and some of the peas will look a little sub-par.  No worries. When you're done shelling, run some water in the bowl with the peas. The "bad" peas will float to the top, along with any bits of dry shell, and you can just pour this stuff off.

It's best to harvest on a dry, sunny day.  The dry, crackly pods are easier to handle than wet ones.  You can let them dry a little more in the house before shelling.  This year I made the mistake of leaving them in the garden too long before harvesting, so some of them even began to sprout in the pod! Don't do that.  Sometimes Southern peas do better with some support; that way they don't lodge.

If you grow a lot of Southern peas, and you need to shell out a lot of them, you can use the bulk method.  Harvest your peas, and let them dry till they are very crackly. Put them in an old pillow case.  Close it with a rubber band.  Put the stuffed pillow case on a hard floor and beat the daylights out of it with a stick.  This shatters the pods, and the peas fall out.  When you open the pillow case, the peas will fall down into a corner, and you can lift off the dry pods and compost them.  You can float off the "bad" peas as usual, then dry them to save for seed or cooking.  Or just save all of them and float off the bad ones when you get around to cooking them.

The "pistou" part of soupe au pistou is easy: you mash a clove of garlic with some salt, add some chopped basil, and mash that up. Then add a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste, some olive oil, and some grated Parmesan.  Julia tells you to do this in the bottom of your soup tureen.  I think a soup tureen is a bowl in the shape of something--maybe a cabbage, or a chicken--with a lid that matches it.  Do you have one? I don't. After all, we are servantless American cooks, as Julia would say. They probably have a soup tureen at Downton Abbey. Or six or seven.

Last night we had this with my favorite affordable red wine:  Seven Deadly Zins.  It paired well, as they say.

 It's not necessary to measure the ingredients really, but here's a recipe adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol 1.  It serves two people for a main course, or four as a soup course.

Soupe au Pistou

1/2 cup fresh shelled Southern peas, such as purple hull, Lady peas or black-eyed peas (or frozen)
1 cup each: diced potato, diced carrots, and diced leek or onions
2-4 T white rice
Water to cover
salt to taste

Simmer these ingredients for about 10-15 minutes.

Then add:

1 cup green beans

Simmer ten more minutes, then off heat.

While the vegetables are cooking, blend the following ingredients in your pestle or food processor to make the pistou:

2 cloves garlic (or half a clove of elephant garlic)
salt to taste
3 T tomato paste
2-4 T fresh basil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
2-4 T olive oil

When the soup is ready, serve the pistou on the side and each person can add the amount they want.