Serves 6 to 8
2 ounces pancetta, minced (if you don’t want to use pancetta, substitute about 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter with an equal amount of extra-virgin olive oil)
1 medium yellow onion, chopped, about 1 1/2 to 2 cups
1 fennel bulb, cleaned, cored and chopped, about 1 1/2 to 2 cups, (if you are not a big fan of fennel you can use 1/2 of a bulb or it can omitted)
Parsley stems from a bunch of flat-leaf Italian parsley, very finely chopped, about 1/4 cup
2 medium leeks, cleaned, tough outer leaves removed, white and light green parts chopped, about 1/2 to 3/4 cup
4 to 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced (adjust amount according to your taste)
2 or 3 carrots, peeled and chopped, about 3/4 to 1 cup
2 or 3 celery stalks, cleaned and chopped, about 3/4 to 1 cup
8 cups of of cold water, you may need additional water if the soup is too thick (you can substitute chicken stock or vegetable stock, if you prefer)
4 to 6 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped
1 bay leaf
4 to 6 stems of fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, leaves removed and chopped, about 1/4 cup
1/2 to 3/4 pounds haricots verts or other thin green beans, rinsed, stems removed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 or 4 small to medium size zucchini cut into 1/2 inch pieces, about 1 pound (you may want to cut them in 1/2 if they are too large)
3 medium fresh ripe tomatoes, cored and chopped or 1 good quality 28 oz can of whole tomatoes, such San Marzano, drained and lightly crushed by hand
1 16 oz can good quality cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (or an equal amount of similar canned or cooked white beans)
1 cup small pasta such as ditalini, farfalline, orzo, or thin spaghetti broken into small pieces
extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
unsalted butter, (if not using pancetta)
Parmigiano-Reggiano, for garnish
pistou (you can also use your favorite pesto, homemade or purchased)
Sauté the pancetta with about a small amount of olive oil in a heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium heat until the fat has rendered, about 2-3 minutes. (If not using pancetta, add 1 tablespoon each of unsalted butter and olive oil to the pot and melt the butter). Add the onions, fennel, parsley stems, leeks, garlic, carrots, celery, and a small pinch of salt (if using pancetta it will be a bit salty). Cook the vegetables, uncovered, until they are crisp-tender and start to turn translucent, about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir occasionally and add additional olive oil if needed.
Add 8 cups of water,(add additional water later if the soup becomes too thick), bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Add the bay leaf, thyme, parsley and simmer for 30 minutes.
After the soup has simmered for 30 minutes add the haricots verts and zucchini and simmer for another 20 minutes. Then add the tomatoes, cannellini beans, and pasta. Simmer over medium low heat for about 5 to 10 minutes, until the pasta is cooked. Taste the soup, and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.
Ladle the soup into individual bowls. Garnish with a generous spoonful of pistou on top, as well as some shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano and a drizzle of good extra-virgin olive oil. Save some of the pistou and serve it on the side so your guests or family can add more as they go. It won’t last long.
Serve with some grilled or toasted bread and a bottle of French rosé or a Riesling from Alsace, such as a Trimbach. A good Sauvignon Blanc will also pair well with the vegetables and the pistou. I would go with one from New Zealand or for a splurge, a French Sancerre.