Fresh Vegetable Soup with Basil Pesto and Pecorino Romano Cheese
By Heidi Allison
After rich holiday fare, I start to crave lighter and healthier dishes, and, soups are a fave “go-to” for new beginnings… This recipe has a decidedly lighter touch than traditional hearty cream-based winter soups or meat and barley stews, but, it’s packed with flavor that comes from a variety of fresh vegetables, and basil pesto. A concentrated scratch vegetable stock mixed with a fresh tomato broth serves as the soup’s foundation. Seasonal fresh vegetables add flavor and texture, while Yukon gold potatoes and cannellini beans make the broth more substantial. The soup is finished with a hearty dollop of fresh basil pesto and a sprinkle of freshly-grated, salty, Italian Pecorino Romano cheese right before serving.
The caveat for making this soup is layering: The stock is prepared first, then the vegetables are added at different times, rather than all at once. This step not only preserves the texture of the vegetables —they are lightly cooked so they retain a little bite—it also keeps colors vibrant and vegetables fresh looking. Carrots and celery are gently microwaved, then added to the soup near the end, along with any cooking juice, to keep colors bright. Spinach is incorporated after the soup comes off the heat—right before serving— so it wilts into the hot broth, retaining its brilliant kelly green color. A little extra work, but its worth it…This is a pretty soup.
Basil pesto is the ingredient that puts this soup over the top— the herbaceous flavor complements the vegetables, while the salty, sheep-milk Roman pecorino cheese sprinkled on right before serving adds a complex back note and salty hit to the finished dish. While it will be a good soup without it, this dish transforms into a great soup with it. You can double up the stock and freeze it for later use; just add fresh vegetables and basil the day you plan to serve it.
Serves: 3 as an entree, 4-6 as a starter course
2 cups fresh basil, stems removed
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
½ cup freshly grated, good-quality imported Parmesan cheese
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
In this order, layer basil, garlic, cheese and ¼ cup of oil in a food processor and pulse till roughly chopped. With machine running, slowly drizzle the remainder of the olive oil into machine till a paste appears—about 10 seconds.
Place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside.
Soup Stock Ingredients:
10 cups filtered water
2 heads organic green cabbage, quartered
2 yellow onions, cut in half with skin intact
3 organic celery stalk, with leaves
3 organic carrots, cut into 4 inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 pint organic grape tomatoes
2 organic pounds Roma tomatoes
1 large Yukon Gold potato
1 can organic cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 organic green zucchini, cut inch ¼ inch cubes
4 Roma tomatoes, peeled and chopped
5 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed
3 organic carrots, peeled and cut into ¼ inch cubes
2 stalks of organic celery, cut into ¼ inch cubes
3 cups baby organic spinach
¼ cup grated imported Italian pecorino Romano cheese
Place water, cabbage, onion, celery, carrots, garlic and parsley into a large stock pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook till reduced to about 4 cups—about 3 hours. Strain out vegetables and return vegetable stock to stock pot.
Place grape tomatoes into a blender or Ninja Bullet with 2 cups of water and blend on high till puréed. Place a large sieve over stock pot and pour tomato mixture into sieve and rinse out skins. Place 6 Roma tomatoes in a Ninja bullet or blender and blend on high till puréed. Pour tomatoes through a strainer into vegetable stock, expressing juice with the back of a spoon till only skins remain in strainer.
Cut potato in half then ½ inch lengths and place into stock pot. Heat on medium-low for 15 minutes, then add zucchini and thyme and simmer for 10 minutes, or almost done— zucchini should be with a bit of bite—not mushy or too soft. Add chopped tomato and thyme, an heat for several minutes.
Add carrots and celery to a microwave dish with a bit of water and heat for 2 minutes or until just till al dente, then add vegetables, along with cooking water, to the soup. Simmer for several minutes.
Remove soup from heat, and add spinach, by the handful, into hot soup, stirring with a wooden spoon till it wilts.
Ladle soup into serving bowls and top with a tablespoon of basil pesto and a sprinkling of pecorino Romano cheese, then s