Soupe provençale au basilic

Provençal soup with pistou

This basil-inflected soup from Provence may be served chilled or hot. A puréed soup of potatoes, leeks and zucchini, it is just as delicious but quite different from its more famous sibling — soupe au pistou, which is closer to minestrone, with chunky veggies and beans or pasta. Both get their zing from pistou, a southern French sauce of basil, garlic and olive oil that is similar to Italy’s pesto, minus the parmesan and pine nuts.

Served cold, this soup makes a delightful start to a summer meal. When hot, it may be served with a bowl of parmesan shavings alongside. The only equipment you’ll need is a cutting board, a sharp knife, a peeler, a soup pot and a blender.

The quantities below will serve 3 people.

5 cups (1.25 liter) water
2 tsp. sea salt or table salt, plus 1/4 tsp. salt for the pistou
2 medium potatoes
1 sturdy leek or 2 medium leeks
2 smallish onions
1 zucchini
freshly ground black pepper

1 bunch fresh basil
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup (10 cl) high-quality olive oil
chunk of parmesan (optional)

Bring the water to a boil in a soup pot. You will add the veggies as the water is heating.

Peel and cube the potatoes. Add to the pot. Slice off the bottoms and dark green tops of the leeks, slice in half lengthwise and rinse thoroughly to remove any sand. Chop and add to the pot. Peel and chop the onions and add. Rinse the zucchini, cube and add. Add 2 tsp. sea salt or table salt. Grind some black pepper over the pot. Stir.

When the pot comes to a boil, turn down the heat. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, or until the veggies are tender. Allow to cool.

While the soup is cooking, make the pistou. Place the basil on your cutting board. Chop off and discard the stems, then slice through the leaves a few times. Transfer to a blender.

Peel and coarsely chop the garlic. Add to the blender. Add the olive oil and 1/4 tsp. salt. Pulse to obtain a smooth sauce.

When the soup has cooled off a bit, purée it in your blender. Transfer to a clean pot.

Stir in 3 tbsp. of the pistou. The soup should be about the consistency of heavy cream. If it seems too thick, stir in a little water.

If serving the soup chilled, refrigerate for at least an hour.

If serving hot, reheat gently — and, if you like, make a small bowlful of parmesan shavings to bring to the table. Shave the parmesan using your vegetable peeler. The cheese will melt into the soup for extra flavor.

Just before serving — cold or hot — ladle the soup into bowls and top with a swirl of pistou. Serves three.

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