The French version of minestrone, served with the French version of pesto.
1 cup dried flageolet beans, picked over and rinsed (about 7 ounces)
6 leeks (white and pale green parts only), quartered lengthwise, sliced thin crosswise, washed thoroughly, and drained
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 bay leaves
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 quarts unseasoned chicken or vegetable stock
5 carrots, trimmed, peeled, and cut in 1/4-inch dice
1/2-pound potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/4-inch dice (Yukon Gold potatoes are good here)
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and cut in 1/4-inch dice
one 3-inch strip of orange zest removed with a vegetable peeler
freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for the table
1. Soak the beans in cold water to cover by 2 inches in a large kettle overnight. (Alternatively, you can quick soak by bringing the beans and enough cold water to cover by 2 inches to a boil over moderately high heat in a large kettle. Boil the beans for 2 minutes, and remove the kettle from heat. Cover and let stand for 1 hour.)
2. Cook the leeks in 2 tablespoons of the butter and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large, heavy Dutch oven over moderate heat, stirring frequently, for 30 minutes, or until dark golden brown. Add bay leaves, garlic, herbes de Provence, fennel seeds and pepper, and cook the mixture, stirring, for 1 minute.
3. Drain the beans and add to leek mixture. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Quickly reduce the heat, and simmer the mixture, partially covered, for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until beans are tender. (Watch carefully so that the mixture does not boil but stays at a consistent bare simmer.)
4. While the bean mixture is simmering, cook carrots, potato, fennel bulb, and orange zest in remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, deep skillet over moderately high heat, stirring often, until the vegetables begin to brown, about 15 minutes.
5. When beans are tender (test by tasting or cutting a bean), stir diced vegetables and tomatoes into soup. Taste for seasoning. Cook soup over moderate heat for 5 minutes. Discard bay leaves.
6. Ladle soup into bowls and serve with Parmigiano-Reggiano and pistou.
You might call this soup the French version of minestrone, served with the French version of pesto. It is popular around Nice, in the southeast corner of France, and certainly feels the influence of Italy. As with many peasant dishes, there are almost infinite variations. We're crazy about this version, which features a deep, burnished soup that stands up beautifully to the basil-and-garlic paste called pistou in France. Let people stir in their own pistou at the table—it's a personal thing. Give people control over their own garlic intake! (But we think you'll need at least 1 teaspoon per bowl.) Soup au pistou is often served as a meal in itself. In making the soup, by the way, use unseasoned stock so that salt doesn't stop the beans from cooking properly. Serves 4 as a main course