Serves 4 to 6
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 small fennel bulb, quartered, cored, and chopped
2 zucchini, chopped
8 oz. new potatoes, chopped
2 tomatoes, skinned, seeded, and chopped
2 quarts vegetable or chicken stock
1 sprig of thyme
2 cups canned cannellini beans, drained
2 cups canned kidney beans, drained
6 oz. green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 oz. spaghetti, broken into pieces
1 2/3 cups finely grated cheese (aged Gouda or Parmesan)
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 garlic cloves
Leaves from a small bunch of basil
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan or casserole dish. Add the onion, fennel, and zucchini and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until browned. Add the potatoes, tomatoes, stock, and thyme. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer gently for 15 minutes.
2. Add the cannellini and kidney beans and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes more. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the green beans and the spaghetti and cook for about 10 minutes more, until the pasta is tender. Cover and let stand. Ideally, the soup should rest for at least a few hours before serving, or make one day in advance and refrigerate. (Do not make the pistou until you are ready to serve; it is best fresh, and the basil and garlic should not be cooked.)
3. To make the pistou, put the garlic, basil, and oil in a small food processor and blend until well chopped. You can also make it using a mortar and pestle, starting with the garlic and finishing with the oil, added gradually.
4. To serve, heat the soup and pass round the pistou and cheese, to be stirred in to taste. The soup can also be served at room temperature.
Grab a good wine and some crusty french bread...and you have a wonderful wintery meal...