THE WASHINGTON POST – For someone whose seminal book is named La Technique, Jacques Pépin is one of the least dogmatic chefs I’ve ever met.
He demonstrated it back in the 1960s, when he went to work at Howard Johnson’s to help pioneer the use of high-quality frozen food, rather than take a White House job cooking for President John F Kennedy.
Pépin, 86, can slice and dice with the best of them – I’ve seen him turn garlic and salt into a paste in mere seconds, using nothing more than a knife – but he also is refreshingly fond of shortcuts.
He’s demonstrated countless timesaving techniques on his many public-television shows, including my favourite series, Fast Food My Way, and its follow-up.
In his latest cookbook, Jacques Pépin Quick & Simple, an update of an earlier work, Pépin continues spreading the gospel of effective cooking made fast by smart choices. He wrote about his love for, among others, the microwave, the pressure cooker, the toaster oven and the food processor, every one of them a timesaver in the kitchen.
Just because you can chop a mountain of vegetables by hand more quickly than the average cook doesn’t mean you want to.
The recipe that jumped out at me in Quick & Simple is exactly what the book’s title promises: a light soup that uses water, not stock, to showcase the vegetables and uses a food processor, not a knife, to slice them thinly enough that they soften in 15 or 20 minutes.
You use the same food processor (without bothering to clean it) to puree parsley, garlic and a little olive oil into a vibrant paste that you stir into the soup right before serving.
On the cusp of spring, when the days can still be crisp, it makes for a soothing lunch or dinner, with a side of crusty bread for dipping.
The recipe also contains a multitude of lessons, about using whatever you have, about seasoning at the right time, about letting flavours shine – and about being willing to use whatever tools you need to get dinner on the table in a flash.
And that befits Pépin’s reputation as perhaps the world’s best cooking teacher, a reputation he lives up to year after year through not only his books and YouTube videos but through his foundation, which supports community kitchens that offer culinary training to adults with high barriers to employment.
To support the foundation’s work, you can become a member and get access to content such as two web-based “books” that offer a total of 100 recipes and videos from some of the nation’s most acclaimed chefs – Pépin included, of course.
CHUNKY VEGETABLE SOUP
Jacques Pépin’s simple, light soup is made with water, which retains the flavors of the vegetables better than any stock.
This goes quickly if you use a food processor – you don’t need to bother cleaning the bowl between uses – but you can do all the cutting by hand if you prefer. Don’t skip the crowning touch: an herb-garlic garnish that gives the soup a fresh burst of flavour.
Use this assortment of vegetables or whatever you have in your refrigerator or freezer. Serve with crusty bread, if you’d like.
Storage Notes: The soup can be refrigerated, without the herb-garlic garnish, for up to one week or frozen for up to six months. Defrost and reheat on the stove top or in the microwave, and add the garnish right before serving.
Half medium onion, peeled and cut into chunks
One rib celery
Four scallions, trimmed
Four tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
One large carrot, trimmed and scrubbed
One zucchini, trimmed
One small white turnip, scrubbed
One wedge green cabbage
One to two russet potatoes, scrubbed
One can no-salt-added navy or cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
One-and-a-half teaspoons fine sea salt, plus more to taste
Seven cups water
Two tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus more to taste
Six cloves garlic
One cup lightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley or basil leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
Fit a food processor with a slicing blade and process the onion, celery and scallions. (Alternatively, you can roughly chop them by hand). In a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat two tablespoons of the oil until shimmering. Add the sliced vegetables and saute until tender, about three minutes.
Meanwhile, cut the carrot, zucchini, turnip, cabbage and potatoes in halves or quarters lengthwise (getting them narrow enough to go through the food processor chute), and use the processor to thinly slice them. (Alternatively, you can thinly slice them by hand).
Add the vegetables to the stockpot, along with the beans, salt and water, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil.
Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer until the vegetables are very soft and the soup is flavourful, 15 to 20 minutes.
Stir in the lemon juice, taste, and add more salt and/or lemon juice if needed.
While the soup is cooking, change the food processor to the chopping blade.
Combine the garlic and herbs with the remaining two tablespoons of oil in the bowl and puree until smooth. (Alternatively, you can finely chop the garlic and herbs by hand, and stir together with the oil).
Divide the soup among serving bowls, top each with a generous dollop of the herb mixture, season with the pepper, and serve hot.
Calories: 215; Total Fat: 10g; Saturated Fat: 1g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 518mg; Carbohydrates: 27g; Dietary Fibre: 6g; Sugar: 4g; Protein: 7g.