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Soupe au Pistou Simmered with Lamb Shanks

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Serves eight, with plenty of leftovers.

Yields 1 cup pistou.

  • by from Fine Cooking
    Issue 27

You may need to call your butcher to reserve the lamb shanks for this sustaining bean soup.

  • 3 cups shell beans (if fresh, try half cranberry beans and half another white variety; if dried, try cannellini or other white runner variety)
  • 2 lamb shanks (about 2 lb. total)
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil 
  • 2 to 3 Tbs. kosher or sea salt 
  • 6 large cloves garlic, crushed  
  • 2-1/2 lb. ripe tomatoes (a mix of red and yellow if possible), peeled and coarsely chopped (about 6 cups)
  • 2 cups peeled, seeded, and cubed butternut or other winter squash
  • 3 yellow onions, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced (about 1 cup)
  • 1-1/2 lb. fresh green or yellow beans, or a mix
  • 1/2 lb. green zucchini (1 large), quartered lengthwise and sliced 3/4 inch thick
  • 1 cup small or medium pasta (riso, ditalini, penne)
For the pistou:
  • 4 medium cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp. kosher or sea salt 
  • 2 cups packed basil leaves, washed and dried
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

If using dried beans, rinse and soak them overnight in cold water. Drain. Cover with cold water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil over medium heat, simmer 15 minutes, drain, and set aside.

In a stockpot that’s wide enough to fit the lamb shanks on their sides (or a skillet), brown the shanks well in the olive oil on all sides. Add 3 quarts cold water to the pot. Bring to a boil, uncovered, and thoroughly skim the foam from the surface. Add the salt, garlic, and one-third of the tomatoes (about 2 cups). If using dried shell beans, add them now. Adjust the heat to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes. Add the squash, onions, carrots, green beans, zucchini, the remaining 4 cups tomatoes, and the shell beans, if using fresh. Bring the pot to a boil. Lower the heat and continue to simmer until the lamb meat is very tender, the beans are soft, and the soup has developed a velvety texture, about 2 to 2-1/2 hours more. Remove the shanks and pull the meat from the bones. Cut the meat into small pieces and return them to the soup.

Meanwhile, make the pistou: With a mortar and pestle (or in a food processor), mash the garlic and salt. Add the basil and work to a paste. Work in the Parmigiano. Slowly mix in the oil to bind the sauce. Taste for salt.

When you’re ready to serve the soup, bring it to a boil and add the pasta. Cook at a light boil until the pasta is tender, about 10 minutes. The soup should be thick, but if it's too thick, add hot water. Taste for salt and serve with a dollop of pistou stirred into each bowl.

nutrition information (per serving):
Size : per cup; Calories (kcal): 310; Fat (g): fat g 11; Fat Calories (kcal): 100; Saturated Fat (g): sat fat g 2; Protein (g): protein g 17; Monounsaturated Fat (g): 7; Carbohydrates (g): carbs g 39; Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 1; Sodium (mg): sodium mg 1030; Cholesterol (mg): cholesterol mg 15; Fiber (g): fiber g 10;

Photo: Mark Thomas

I have made this time and time again and it is sublime. I've always been a fan of soupe au pistou, but this is the only recipe I've seen with lamb shanks, an addition that elevates this wonderfully rustic dish to something really special. It's a great recipe to make for company, too, because it's very forgiving time-wise and requires little in the way of last minute preps. The only improvement I've made is to boil the pasta separately and then stir it into each bowl as I serve it -- otherwise the pasta gets mushy in the leftover soupe (assuming there is any!) and soaks up all the broth.

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