Sizable bean count puts soup-maker in growth industry


September 15, 1993|By ROB KASPER

It began as a modest undertaking, just making a pot of vegetable soup. It grew into a Sunday project with frenzied chopping of zucchini, enthusiastic peeling of tomatoes and multiple attempts to get the entire family involved in the process.

The result was too much of a good soup.

My zeal got the best of me. I ended up with enough of the vegetable soup with basil, tomato and garlic to give a cup of the stuff to every man, woman and child who can say "soupe au pistou" without giggling.

I doubt that many kids would ask for this soup. The reception my two kids, 12 and 8, gave to the vegetable soup with garlic was, as the diplomats would say, guarded.

The 8-year-old stared at a bowl of the yellowish liquid with great suspicion. The 12-year-old sniffed the soup and announced, "This is very good soup." But when his younger brother shot him a look of disbelief, the 12-year-old explained that he was just trying to psyche himself into swallowing one spoonful. That was about the amount he ended up eating.

I was fond of the soupe au pistou, and so was my wife. We especially liked the pistou part, a mixture made of basil, tomatoes, Parmesan and Gruyere cheeses, garlic and olive oil. Part of this mixture was tossed in the vegetable soup.

I ate several bowls and smeared the extra pistou on pieces of bread. But I did not like the soup enough to eat it by the tanker-load, which is about how much I had left over after supper.

Ambition had caused the surplus soup problem. If I had followed the advice of Lydie Marshall, author of "A Passion for Potatoes" (HarperPerennial, $13), the source of the recipe, there would not have been excess soup. Her recipe called for making a pot of soup with 8 cups of water and 8 cups of vegetables. That creates a sensible amount of soup.

I scoffed at the sensible, and lurched for the grandiose. I doubled the recipe.

Into the pot went 16 cups of water, and 4 cups of diced potato, 4 cups of sliced green beans, 2 diced onions, 4 cups of diced zucchini and 2 cups of cranberry beans.

The excess began with the shelling of the cranberry beans. I bought some at the Sunday morning farmer's market held in the parking lots underneath the Jones Falls Expressway near City Hall.

Most beans today come in cellophane sacks. These came in pods, a fact that was noted by the 12-year-old when he saw the bean pods. The kid had followed me out to a table in our back yard where I was starting to remove the beans from their pods.

I had moved the shelling operation from the kitchen to the back yard and was trying to get away from the 12-year-old. Lately he, like other kids his age, had amused himself by cataloging the many faults of his parents.

The other day, for instance, he noted that I sometimes mistakenly call him by his younger brother's name.

"If you can't remember our names now," my older son asked, "what are you gonna do when you get really old? Just call us 'What's-your-name?' "

Rather than face such criticism, I flee. Usually this works, but the other day, when I took the beans and moved to the back yard, my critic followed me outside. Deciding that my best defense was a good offense, I handed the kid some of beans and told him to start shelling.

The 12-year-old turned his judgmental eyes on the beans, not his old man.

"These things look like little eggs," he reported. And he wanted to know if this shelling exercise was responsible for the &r expression "peas in a pod." I said I thought so.

We shelled at a furious pace and ended up with twice the amount of beans the recipe called for. That in turn led to the decision to double the amount of other vegetables. And that required doubling the amount of water. And that led to doubling the zucchini, which upped the ante of potatoes and green beans and onions.

This was the same process, I think, that was used to build the Pentagon.

Meanwhile my wife drove off in search of a store that sold Gruyere cheese on Sunday. This cheese was needed to make the pistou. She found the cheese in the Old World Gourmet in the Belvedere Square Market, and brought the prize home and plunked it in the pistou.

By the time all the contributions had been made, we ended up with enough soup to fill a swimming pool. When our supply runs out, in a year or so, I will make the soup again. But then I will resist the urge to make the original recipe bigger and better.

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