This is a recipe for a light yet rich soup that utilizes many of the fresh ingredients available in the spring. I usually make my soups quite haphazardly and with whatever looks good at the market so creating a recipe for soup where everything was carefully measured out and recorded was quite challenging. I do believe it turned out pretty well and really showcases the ingredients to their fullest. If you want to make it vegetarian, you could leave out the bacon. However, I think that the fat from it really enhances the flavor of the broth and makes for a much richer tasting soup. The technique used of leaching the flavor from the vegetables first and then putting in freshly blanched ones later, allows the vegetables' textures, colors, and flavors to shine. - kcpoindexter —kcpoindexter
Test Kitchen Notes
This recipe requires a lot of steps but the soup's many, many vegetables do end up perfectly cooked. Feel free to pick and choose the vegetables you want to have. The mint and basil make a great pistou -- just a dollop adds a ton of flavor and richness to the soup. - Stephanie —The Editors
Cut 4 slices of bacon into pieces and cook on medium heat in your soup pan. I usually use a cast iron dutch oven to cook my soups.
Once the bacon has slightly browned, about 4 minutes, add 3/4 of a small to medium sized sweet onion, half of a bulb of fennel, 1 leek, 3 carrots peeled, and 3 celery stalks all coarsely chopped. Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil, cover pan and let cook over medium heat stirring occasionally. This process will release the essence of the vegetables and also infuse the flavor of bacon into the pan. Let cook for about 25 minutes.
Pour in 8 cups of broth to the pot. Add the rind from the Parmesan. Remove the lid and turn the heat up to medium-high. Stir occasionally and allow to cook for 20-25 minutes.
While the broth is cooking. Prepare your soup ingredients. Chop 1 leek, 1/2 of a small to medium sweet onion, the rest of the fennel bulb, 3 carrots, the zucchini, and around 4 large green Swiss Chard leaves, stems removed. Break the softer ends of the asparagus up into bite size pieces. This part of the process is best done with your hands as you can feel when the asparagus begins to get tougher, at which point you do not want to use it in the soup.
Boil a pot of salted water to blanch the vegetables and prepare an ice bath to put them in after they have blanched. Once the water is boiling blanch the carrots for 4 minutes, then the zucchini for 3-4 minutes, the chard for 3- 4 minutes, and the asparagus for 2 minutes. Set aside until ready. If you are using fresh peas you would also blanch them at this point for 3 minutes. I used frozen because the ones at the market today didn't look so fresh.
Drain the broth into a large bowl. Make sure to really press down on the vegetable/bacon mixture to release all the broth being held in. Set aside broth. Discard the cooked vegetable and bacon mixture.
Saute the chopped leeks, onion, and fennel in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Once they have softened and slightly browned add 3 finely chopped cloves of garlic and cook for 1 minute. Return the broth to the pot and cook for around 4 minutes. Add in the cooked cannellini beans and cook on medium-high for 10 minutes. Season with approx. 2 teaspoons salt and about 40 clicks of fresh ground black pepper. Remember the pistou and Parmesan will add saltiness to the soup so don't go overboard.
Put 1 cup frozen peas into the broth and cook for 1 minute. Add the blanched vegetables to the broth and turn off heat.
Serve with a spoonful of basil and mint pistou, a sprinkling of fresh Parmesan, and some crusty bread. A good and inexpensive bottle of Provencal white wine also goes nicely while cooking and eating this soup!
Basil and Mint Pistou
Place all ingredients in a food processor or mini-chopper. You may have to add in the herb leaves in batches. Mix until fairly well chopped and properly combined. Serve over soup.