There’s nothing in the world that hits straight to the heart like the smells and tastes of meals you associate with home. I’m only one-quarter Italian, but that cuisine and culture has dominated my life. Lasagna is my death row meal. I feel it’s a crime against nature that I will never again taste my grandmother’s tomato sauce the way only she could make it. Pancetta, basil, fresh pasta, tomatoes, parmesan cheese–these ingredients are the siren call that keeps me coming back to my favorite restaurants and experimenting in my own kitchen. Comfort food that never stops being exciting.
One item on my bucket list–I kid you not!–is to try Mario Batali’s hundred-layer lasagna at Del Posto. Sometime last fall, my mom turned me on to this recipe, which is now my go-to winter soup (and there’s a lot of winter here in Quebec!). The celeriac in particular has such a clean summer smell that you’ll actually enjoy chopping it. This recipe isn’t just a few of my favorite things in a pot, but, like those tunics made of curtains in The Sound of Music, something that reappropriates the best part of my childhood to today. I hope you’ll try it, and experience just a little bit of that nostalgia along with me.
Vegetarians/vegans, though it contains bacon, the pistou pack enough punch for you to omit it, and you can substitute chicken broth for vegetable. This recipe is by Molto Mario himself, with an assist by Carla Hall.
Tuscan White Bean Soup with Basil Pistou
For the Pistou:
2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 garlic clove
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
For the Soup:
1/2 pound pancetta (medium dice)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion (chopped)
1 medium celery root (peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice)
4 garlic cloves (sliced)
3 thyme sprigs (leaves torn)
3 14-ounce cans cannellini beans (rinsed)
salt and pepper to taste
6 cups chicken stock
For the Soup: In a large dutch oven, cook the pancetta in olive oil over a low heat to render out the fat for about 5 minutes. Turn the heat to medium-high and cook until crispy.
Add the onion and celery root and saute over medium-high heat, seasoning with salt, for 2 to 3 minutes just to soften slightly. Add the garlic and thyme and cook just until fragrant, about 2 minutes more. Add the white beans and season with salt and pepper.
Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 25 to 30 minutes or until the soup is thick and flavorful.
Remove from heat and carefully mash with a potato masher to blend the ingredients. [I used a hand-blender.] Serve with a garnish of fresh pistou and freshly grated Parmigiano.
For the Pistou: In a mortar and pestle or food processor, blend the basil, cheese, garlic and season with salt, pepper and chili flakes. Slowly add the olive oil and continue to blend.