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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Italian Style Pesto Soup

Yesterday, Christian's mother mentioned politely how cold it is beginning to get up in Minnesota. She mentioned how lovely soups are during this time of the year, and I completely agree with her. When there's frost on the ground, is there anything better than settling down to a steaming bowl of herb soaked vegetables and other goodness? I don't think so (unless Mulled Wine is an option of course!).
As my basil plant has, verily, exploded this last week, I was planning on making a pesto dish. Now, my thoughts turned to a pesto soup. But how to manage the delicate flavors ... Chicken broth and leeks would form the base, I thought. I would add in other vegetables for the main flavor. I'd try to keep things tame, so the pesto would shine.

I had a second helping, but you tell me if I succeeded ...

Italian Style Pesto Soup
se
rves 5-8 (with leftovers)

What you'll need:
A large stock pot
A food processor/mortar pestle
-- a knife and cutting board work just fine, if more work.

Soup Ingredients:
4 chicken breasts, de-fatted
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pint chicken stock (unsalted, if you can)
1 leek, chopped
6-7 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons red pepper flakes (optional)
3-4 tablespoons dried basil
6 russet potatoes, quartered
3 carrots, roughly chopped
4 stalks celery, roughly chopped
1/2 lb asparagus, roughly chopped
1 stalk broccoli, roughly chopped
1/2 lb whole wheat penne
Pepper, to taste

Pesto Ingredients:
1 large handful fresh basil leaves
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
3 handfuls spinach leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons whole pine nuts
3-4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons olive oil
Sea Salt and Pepper to taste

Instructions:
Soup-
In your large pot, place chicken breasts and coat with olive oil and pepper. Cook on medium heat until nearly cooked (still pink on the insides, about 15 minutes). Be sure to turn breasts regularly to ensure even cooking.
Over partially cooked chicken pour 3 quarts of water and add in chicken stock. Bring to a rolling boil. Chop leek (discarding the top quarter of green section and rinsing throughly to avoid mud), and add into stock. Add chopped garlic, potatoes, carrots, dried basil and red pepper flakes. Cook at a simmer over medium heat until potatoes are soft.
(Hint: While your soup is simmering, take advantage of the downtime to make your pesto- instructions below.)
Once your potatoes are soft, add in asparagus, broccoli and celery. Continue to simmer for another 5-10 minutes, then add your penne. Cook until pasta is al dente.
Pepper to taste (try to resist the urge to salt, your pesto will have plenty).

Pesto-
Using a very sharp knife (or scissors) chop basil leaves into small pieces. Combine basil with other ingredients in to mortar/pestle or food processor. (If using a knife and chopping block, chop all ingredients finely and mix together in a large bowl.)
Add olive oil to moisten and continue to mix until ingredients begin to break down (you want a chunky consistency, not smooth, so don't over do it).
Salt and Pepper to taste.

To Serve:
Dish up into individual portions and serve with a large spoonful of pesto on top. Before eating, mix pesto into soup and enjoy!

Notes:
  • Pesto will store in the fridge for a couple of days, beyond that it will freeze nicely.
  • If you are sensitive to garlic, try oven roasting it first, this will mellow the taste.
  • Feel free to substitute different vegetables due to season or location. This soup needs fresh veggies to be at it's best, so use what looks good. (Some further suggestions include: winter squash, artichokes, zucchini, onions, eggplant ... )
  • You can add the pesto directly into the soup pot, as opposed to on individual portions.
  • Instead of penne, try using an Orzo type pasta or rice.

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