Sunday, July 26, 2009

Soupe au pistou


I remember one year—was the baby born? only just, so it must've been around six years ago—deciding to test myself in the kitchen with a recipe from the series of books: Grand Livre de Cuisine d'Alain Ducasse. Not sure why exactly I would do this with a baby in the house—what, is plain old post-partum not enough torture for a lady?—but I set myself the task. I remember the heft of the cookbook, its silver jacket and the pages of exquisite photos, daring you to reproduce the color, the reflections of light on each fruit or vegetable. I went easy on myself, selecting the Bistrots, Brasseries, et Restaurants de Tradition volume. A sleep-deprived home cook without even the luxury of an automatic dishwasher, let alone other intricate culinary tools, I figured that tradition was more my speed than gastronomie. And even then, I selected what seemed to be the easiest recipe: Soupe au pistou, a lovely pesto soup. The pesto already made (that was easy; I make pesto frequently, though it's true I cut corners and do not use a mortar and pestle to pulverize the basil by hand), I remember the next challenge: "La découpe de tous les légumes doit être uniforme." Oh, did I fail to mention? I was also cooking FSL (French Second Language). I was to dice all vegetables uniformly. This should have been no problem, but I remember that it took me forever. It was an exercise in monumental patience for me not to give in to the temptation to start chopping faster and more irregularly. Not being a professional chef, and not having proper knives, generally I just chop whatever way gets the job done and if it all looks, well, not uniform, then who's to criticize? Imperfection is often a sign of home cooking and has its own charm. Yet, if I was going to cook Ducasse, then damnit, I was going to cook Ducasse; I would pass perfectionist Michelin-star muster. So, as I said, it took every ounce of patience I had; it took much longer than it should have. But eventually, my carrots, potatoes, turnips, and zucchini, plus the rounds of leeks, celery . . . all was diminutively sized, sized the same. And I have to say, neatness counts: the bowl of vegetables looked incredibly appealing, if more fussy than my usual melange. I don't really remember much else about preparing the soup. I do remember that when it was done—when the kitchen was quiet and the baby asleep—I was both tired and deeply satisfied. I remember that the recipe was a success, a wonderful comfort food, and that I wished the pot was bottomless. I could just feed on the soup all year. It was a shame how quickly it disappeared, in some inverse relationship to the time it took to prepare it. I have not made the soup since, but perhaps I will again. I will do it when I need an excuse to be alone in the kitchen for hours. I will treat it as meditation practice, and I will love every slice of the knife, every uniform cube of vegetable that results.

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