Wednesday, July 29, 2015

"Bocuse's Regional French Cooking" - Vegetable, Basil and Garlic Soup (Soupe au pistou) for Le Tour de France

Date I made this recipe:  July 26, 2014, the final day of the Tour de France

Bocuse's Regional French Cooking by Paul Bocuse
Published by:  Flammarion
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores
Recipe:  Soupe au Pistou (Vegetable, Basil and Garlic Soup) – p. 68

Well o-la-la- folks, yesterday the Le Tour de France wrapped up three weeks of heavy-duty racing and hill climbing and now what are we supposed to do?

My answer:  celebrate regaining control of the remote.  My husband's answer:  go out on more bike rides (although not in France).

And there you have it!  And congratulations to this year's winner, Chris Froome for his impressive victory. 

As is usual and customary though, we observe the end of this race down the Champs Elysees by making a French meal and this year's selection was a good one – the famous Soupe au pistou – a dish that slow simmers on the stove (thankfully, no oven involved) and is rich with beans and vegetables and all kinds of other goodness.

This dish hails from Provence, in the south of France, and although I've been to that region twice, I never had it before so it was kind of nice to close that circle.  I love how it makes use of so many summer vegetables and just flat out looks healthy to eat! 
And actually, my version of this was totally vegetarian since I left out the [raw] pork rind in the recipe, mostly because I couldn't find it but also because the cheese used for the toppings wiped out my budget and I wasn't in the mood to find a substitute so we went without and it was fine.

So.  Paul Bocuse, our chef/author, is considered by many to be one of the greatest French chefs ever and one of the first chefs to unveil a French "nouvelle cuisine" menu. Traditionally, French menus are heavy on the sauces, heavy on the wines and just plain heavy.  Nouvelle cuisine focuses on light sauces or broths and fresh ingredients, particularly fresh vegetables. The soup recipe definitely falls into the nouvelle cuisine category.

Hailing from Lyon, Chef Boucuse is now 89 years old and – interesting factoid - in 1969, was one of the chefs preparing the menus for the maiden flight of the Concorde, an airplane that made the journey from France to the US in three hours.  C'est tres "cool."  Unfortunately, I never got to travel on it and taste his cuisine because the cost of the flight was tres cher (very expensive) but I flew on Air France once and was amazed to be handed a beautiful menu of all the food served on the flight, including perfectly poached salmon (and I hate salmon), bread and lots of it and wine!  For free!  Classy outfit, that Air France.

This book is divided into recipes by region:  Lyonnais; Provence; Bordelais; Perigord; Brittany-Normand and Alsace.  And each region's section features foods found in that region, as follows:

Lyonnais – Cabbage soup; pumpkin soup; cheese, eggs and sometimes sausage entrees and the famous Boeuf Bourguignon.  I thought about making a macaroni and cheese dish (gratin de macaroni) but that was too heavy for summertime and required the oven.  Mais non.  (But no.)  

Provence – I love Provence.  Love it, love the food, love the little towns, love.  Today's featured recipe, Soupe au pistou is Provencal and it was very good.  Besides, I loved walking around the house pronouncing it because it just sounds so French!  Go figure, right! (Word of warning:  speaking French will give you lockjaw.  I had to "rehabilitate" my jaw and mouth after both of my trips.)  Other recipes that sounded fun were olive and caper spread a/k/a tapenade; Nice-style salad a/k/a Salade nicoise and several fish recipes including Bouillabaisse (Provencal Fish Stew). 

Bordelais – This area if French wine country, home to the famous Bordeaux wines.  It also borders the Spanish Basque country, a region of northern Spain that is a mix of French and Spanish cultures.  Because of that, you'll find Basque-influenced dishes like Basque-style cod and Basque-style chicken along with the famous French cassoulet, a dish that combines many meats and sausages with beans that is baked in a casserole.  Since I'm not big on duck or lamb which are two of the main ingredients, I passed on that dish and besides, it requires slow-cooking and that was not going to happen on a day it was 90 degrees outside.  Non.

Perigord – is in the south-west region of France, an hour's drive from Bordelais and here, the recipes feature preserved meats like duck and pork as well as the world-famous and often controversial Foie Gras (basically fatted duck liver). There's also a recipe for Garlic Soup, a dish I've heard about but have never eaten or made – yet.

Brittany-Normandy– This region, made famous during WWII when the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy, is heavy on seafood seeing as how it sits on the opposite side of England on the British Channel/Atlantic Ocean.  Dishes like Mussels in White Wine; Coquilles Saint-Jacques (Brittany-style Scallops); Stuffed Clams and [Holy] Mackerel take up the front half of this section while veal recipes finish it off.

En fin (Finally), we have the Alsace region, sometimes referred to as Alsace-Lorraine, famous for various savory and sweet tarts.  This region borders Germany and so there are also dishes for sausages and sauerkraut for you to try.

And so that concludes our culinary tour to complement the bicycle tour that just took place in France (and Belgium and Spain) this week.

I liked the Soupe au Pistou a lot as it was easy, used next to no heat (you simmer it for two hours), and it was easily halved.  Since we are only two, I often cut a dish in half to ensure we don't have endless leftovers.

In the "If I were to make this again" department I have just two minor things:  1) I think I would have cooked the beans all by themselves for a while to avoid having mushy vegetables and 2) I might have added pancetta to the recipe to add a bit of fat and flavor but like I said, I just didn't want to spend more money on the recipe than I did and felt it was essential to have the cheese for topping rather than the meat.  And perhaps if I went to an actual butcher I might have found the required [raw] pork rind but that was just too much effort for a hot day.  I love summer – bring on the heat – but it is wilting to go from store to store.

And so there you go: Viva la France, Viva le Tour, Viva la Soupe au Pistou!

Vegetable, Basil and Garlic Soup (Soupe au Pistou) – 6 servings
Ann's Notes:  1) Pistou is a mixture of garlic, basil, olive oil and tomatoes that is added just before serving.) Pistou is made by grinding the garlic and basil with a mortar and pestle.  I don't have one and tried to improvise and that was fraught with peril.  In the end, I decided to use my mini food processor and that was okay but not the best.  Search the internet for other solutions. 2) You will need to soak the beans overnight; cooking time is 2.5 hours. 3) As mentioned above, good luck finding raw pork rind.  I couldn't even find a substitute on the internet.  Were I do to this again though, I might use pancetta as it is pretty fatty and should yield the flavor Chef Bocuse was looking for. 

½ pound fresh or dried pinto beans
½ pound fresh or dried white beans (like navy beans)
½ pound green beans
6 carrots
2 medium potatoes
1 white onion
1 leek
2 zucchini
3 quarts water
½ pound pork rind
3 ½ ounces shell-shaped pasta
For the pistou:
1 pound ripe tomatoes
6 cloves garlic
10 stems basil
¾ cup olive oil
For serving:
1 ½ cups grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese

If using dried pinto and white beans, begin soaking them a day in advance.  Place them in a large mixing bowl, add enough cold water to cover and let soak overnight.  The next day, drain thoroughly.

If using fresh pinto and white beans, they need only be shelled.

Trim and string the green beans and cut into ½-inch lengths.

Peel and dice the carrots, potatoes, and onion.  Trim of all but the white park of the leek, rinse thoroughly under cold water, and dice.  Rinse the zucchini (but do not peel) and dice.

Place the water in a large stock pot, add the pork rind and bring to a boil, skimming off the foam that rises to the top.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the beans and diced vegetables and simmer over low heat for 2 hours.  Ann's Note:  Since I didn't use pork rind, I added the vegetables and let that mixture come to a boil before turning the heat to low.  If I had to do it over again though, I would have added just the beans, brought them to a boil and then simmered them for a bit before adding the vegetables.  The beans were fine but some were a bit chewy.

As the soup cooks, prepare the pistou:  Peel, seed and chop the tomatoes and place them in a colander to drain.  Peel the garlic, place in a mortar and crush with a pestle.  (See Ann's Note above.)  Remove the leaves from the basil, chop and add them to the mortar.  Remove a few pieces of the cooked potato from the simmering soup with a slotted spoon, drain and add to the mortar.  Work all the ingredients in the mortar together, grinding them with the pestle to obtain a smooth paste.  Season with salt and pepper.

Add the olive oil a little at a time, starting with a very thin stream and whisking after each addition until thoroughly incorporated, as for a mayonnaise. (Ann's Note:  even when I cut the recipe in half, I felt like that was too much olive oil so yes, I added it a little at a time and very carefully as well!)

When the mixture is blended, add the drained tomatoes. 

About 15 minutes before the soup has finished cooking, add the pasta and cook until tender.  Remove the pork rind.  Add the pistou mixture and mix well.  Cover a tureen (if you are using one) and let it stand for 10 minutes before serving.  Place the Parmesan and Gruyere in separate bowls and pass to sprinkle over the soup.

Ann's Note:  The price of Parmesan cheese has gone up considerably such that I have taken to going to a few stores that I know sell it by weight and search until I find the cheapest block.  You do not need all the cheese called for in this recipe, not even if making a half recipe.  And Gruyere cheese has always been pricey so again, I looked until I found an inexpensive block and used that. 

The search for the cheapest cheese reminds me of "Mousier" Keith, a friend of my friend, Susan, who was living in Paris when Susan and I went to France in 1988 (Oh my God, what a hilarious trip that was).  At any rate, Mousier Keith was a starving artist and told me and Susan about how he always scrounged around the French markets, pricing potatoes (in the same way I did my cheese).  When Susan later left Paris to go to England to visit her mother's family, Keith and I went out for dinner which I bought because the poor man was starving.  But to this day, I regret swapping out my very lovely vegetable salad for his seafood salad (in oil as is customary) because I took pity on him.  And by the way, Susan and I always referred to him as "Mousier Keith" because he kept trying to call us to set up a meeting time and when the hotel gave us the messages, they always said "Mousier Keith t'a téléphone hier soir!  (Mr. Keith called while you were out!)

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