During the COVID-19 pandemic, I, like everyone else, have moments where I’m anxious about what’s going on. That’s when I like to get moving and get my brain occupied with other things — like heading out in search of local produce.
There’s definitely something soothing about going to a rural area, stopping at a small farm stand or larger market-style operation, taking a deep breath and admiring the bounty of local, in-season fruits and vegetables available for sale. It makes you feel lucky to live where we do — doubly so when you’re back home making a tasty plan for preparing the items you’ve purchased.
On one recent outing, I ended up buying a cornucopia of ingredients that would be good to use in a simple summer vegetable soup — the kind of soup my mom used to make when I was a kid, where she simply threw everything into the pot and simmered it until it was ready to enjoy.
That meant cutting and cooking in stock the local vegetables I had bought, such as corn, snap-top carrots, bell peppers, zucchini, potatoes and more, with a few flavourings until tender.
You end up with an earthy-tasting, light and colourful soup whose flavour I enhanced by topping each bowl with pistou, often described as a French-style of pesto that I made with local basil and garlic.
My recipe for the soup yields about 10 to 12 servings. If that’s too many, the leftover soup will freeze well for another time. The pistou could also be frozen (see its recipe for details).
Feel free to adjust my soup recipe by adding vegetables you like and leaving out those you don’t care for. The cut vegetables I added to the pot totally about nine cups, so keep that in mind if you make any substitutions.
To find a list of farm stands and markets in and around Greater Victoria, go to the Island Farm Fresh website at islandfarmfresh.com.
Summer Vegetable Soup with Pistou
Here’s a light, throw-all-the vegetables-in-the-pot soup topped with basil- and garlic-rich pistou, often described as a French-style pesto. This soup, and the pistou recipe, will freeze well. So enjoy some now and freeze the rest for another time.
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Makes: about 10 to 12 servings
1 cob of corn
2 to 3 medium snap-top carrots, scrubbed well, and then sliced (see Note 1)
1 medium green bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 medium yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 lb (about 4) large nugget or white-skinned potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 to 4 ripe roma tomatoes, halved and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 small to medium leek, white and pale green part only, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
8 cups chicken or vegetable stock or broth (see Note 2)
2 tsp herbes de Provence (see Note 3)
1 bay leaf
• splash or 2 red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar
• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• pistou (see recipe below)
Shuck corn and then, with a sharp knife, cut the kernels off the cob.
Place corn kernels in a large soup pot and add the carrots, bell peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, leek, stock (or broth), herbes de Provence, bay leaf and vinegar.
Set pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Now lower the heat until the stock (or broth) is gently simmering (small bubbles should just break on the surface). Simmer the soup, uncovered, 15 to 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Taste the soup and season with salt and pepper, as needed.
Ladle soup into bowls and let diners top theirs with a spoon or two of the pistou.
Note 1: Snap-top carrots are bunches of carrots sold with their green tops attached. If they’re very fresh, you don’t need to peel them — just scrub them well before slicing. If desired, you can slice some of the green tops and add them to the soup, too.
Note 2: If using store-bought stock (or broth), two 946 mL containers of it should yield the amount needed here.
Note 3: Herbes de Provence is a French-style blend of dried herbs sold in the bottled herb and spice aisle of most supermarkets.
This French-style, fresh basil-rich sauce is great to spoon on or swirl into soup. It can also be tossed into pasta or served as an accompaniment for such things as grilled meats, sausages and chicken, fish and grilled vegetables.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: None
Makes: about 1 1/4 cups
36 large basil leaves, stems removed (see Note)
3/4 cup freshly and finely grated, loosely packed Parmesan cheese (about 40 grams, don’t use the dried powdered type)
6 medium to large garlic cloves
3 Tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp sea salt, or to taste
2/3 to 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Place basil, cheese, garlic, tomato paste and salt in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. With the food processor running, slowly pour the oil down its feed tube, stopping when you’re happy with the consistency of the pistou.
Refrigerate the pistou in a tightly sealed jar until needed. It will keep at least a week. The pistou could also be frozen in ice-cube trays, unmoulded and kept frozen in freezer bags or containers until needed.
Note: The large basil leaves I used when testing the recipe were about three to four inches long.
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.