I’m a kid when it comes to new toys, so prepare to see quite a few recipes that feature my newest toy, a Kuhn Rikon pressure cooker, in the next few days. The good news is that you don’t need a pressure cooker to prepare any of these recipes; the pc just saves some time, particularly when it comes to cooking dried beans. It took exactly 8 minutes at high pressure to completely cook the cranberry beans in the following recipe, but if you don’t have a pressure cooker, prepare to let them cook for around 45 minutes. (I’ll put a couple of suggestions for regular stove-top cooking at the end of the recipe.)
This is a hearty soup, filled with beans and vegetables. If you’re looking for a delicate soup to start a meal, this isn’t the one! This is more like a meal in a bowl. Add a green salad and perhaps some whole-grain bread, and you’ve got a whole meal. While the soup is flavorful on its own, adding the pistou–a pesto-like blend of basil, garlic, and pinenuts–gives it added layers of flavor. (I shouldn’t tell you this, but my husband preferred the soup without the pistou; he chose to spread his share of the pistou on the bread, and I have to admit, it makes a delicious topping for warm bread.)
You’ll need to start this recipe with soaked beans; I chose cranberry beans (also known as borlotti beans) but you could use pintos or cannellini or virtually any bean you’d like. You have three options for the soaking. 1) Overnight soaking is exactly what it sounds like; just rinse and check the beans for impurities (small rocks, discolored beans), cover with at least 2 inches of water, and let them soak for 8 hours or so. 2) Hour-long soaking means you cover the beans with water, at least 1-inch higher than the level of the beans, bring them to a boil for one minute, remove them from the heat, and let them soak for at least one hour. 3) A pressure cooker quick-soak involves covering the beans with water, bringing them up to high pressure for about 2 minutes (more for larger beans), removing from heat and allowing the pressure to come down naturally, which takes 10-15 minutes. Whichever soaking method you choose, be sure to drain the soaking liquid and, perhaps, rinse the beans before cooking. (I never bother to rinse, but if beans are hard for you to digest, rinsing may help.)
I chose to do the hour-long soak with my beans, mostly because I had plenty of time. I soaked the beans in the morning, and cooked them right afterward. I didn’t proceed with the rest of the recipe (adding the zucchini, green beans, etc.) until close to dinner time. This is one of those soups that tastes better with standing, though, so you can cook it early in the day and simply reheat it just before serving. But be sure to serve it hot, and don’t make the pistou until right before you’re ready to eat.
Provençal Soupe au Pistou
(Bean and Vegetable Soup with Pinenut Pesto)
1 pound cranberry beans (or other medium-sized bean), soaked and drained
10 cups water
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound potatoes, cut in large chunks
3 large carrots, thickly slices
1 tsp. thyme
4 bay leaves
generous grating black pepper
1 pound zucchini, cut into large cubes
1 pound green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces (may use frozen)
2 onions, chopped
1 15-ounce can diced plum tomatoes
3 tbsp. tomato paste
salt and pepper, to taste
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. thyme
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled
1/3 cup pinenuts, lightly toasted
1 cup fresh basil leaves
2 tbsp. water
Spray the bottom of the pressure cooker with olive oil, and sauté the garlic for just a minute or two. Add the beans, water, carrots, potatoes, bay leaves and 1 tsp. thyme. Seal the cooker and bring to high pressure. Cook at high pressure for 8 minutes; remove from heat and allow the pressure to come down naturally.
Add the second group of ingredients, zucchini through thyme, and cook until vegetables are done and soup is thick and flavorful. This could be in as little as 25 minutes or as long as an hour. Remove the bay leaves before serving.
Use a food processor to make the pistou. Drop the garlic into the running processor, and process until minced. Add the toasted pinenuts (you can toast them in a small skillet or toaster oven until just beginning to brown, about 1 minute) and process until they form a thick paste. Add the basil leaves and process, scraping down the sides, until it is all incorporated. Add water as the processor is running to thin out the mixture a little.
Serve the soup and pass the pistou at the table. Enjoy!
Stove-top directions: Using a large stockpot, you can cook this all in one step. I would sauté the onion with the garlic at the beginning of the recipe and add the remaining ingredients (except the pistou) all at once. Use more or less water as needed and cook until the beans are tender, probably at least an hour.
If you don’t want to bother with the pistou, you can add fresh or dried basil directly to the soup when you add the zucchini and other vegetables. I suggest at least 1 tablespoon of dried basil.
P.S.–This makes a lot, probably about 12 servings.