3 tablespoons olive oil
3 leeks, white parts plus an inch of green, chopped and rinsed
Pinch of saffron threads
3 medium to large carrots, diced
3 yellow waxy boiling potatoes, chopped
3 medium turnips, peeled and diced
3 zucchini or other summer squash, sliced into ½-inch rounds or chunks
¾ pound green beans, tipped, tailed and cut into 1-inch lengths
2 large ripe tomatoes, any color, peeled, seeded and diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 quarts vegetable stock
1 cup pasta: pastini, orzo, broken spaghetti or other small shapes
For the pesto:
3 cups loosely packed basil leaves, stems removed
1 plump garlic clove, peeled
3 tablespoons pine nuts
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Warm oil in a wide soup pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and saffron and cook gently until the leeks look glossy and translucent and the saffron begins to release its aroma, about 10 minutes. Add the vegetables, including the juice from the tomatoes, the garlic, and 1½ teaspoons salt. Cook for 5 minutes more, then add the stock. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer until the vegetables are tender, 20 to 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta in salted boiling water, then drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking.
Make the pesto. Drop the basil into boiling water for a second or two, then drain, rinse and pat dry. Mash the garlic in a mortar with ¼ teaspoon salt and the pine nuts, then add the basil leaves a handful at a time. Grind them, using a circular motion, until you have a fairly fine paste with very small flecks of leaves. Briefly work in the cheeses, then stir in the olive oil. Taste for salt. Or, to use a food processor, process the garlic, salt and pine nuts until finely chopped, then add the basil and olive oil and puree until smooth. Add the cheeses and process just to combine.
Add the pasta to the hot soup, then ladle the soup into bowls and stir a spoonful of pesto into each serving. Season with pepper. The soup need not be piping hot. In fact, it’s better served a little more on the tepid side. Makes about 10 cups.
— Adapted from “Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen,” 2006