Julia Child’s Soupe a la Victorine

This take on Julia Child’s soupe a la Victorine takes a few major shortcuts – it comes together in about 30 minutes instead of three hours! – but majorly delivers on flavour. The soup consists of two main elements: a base of blended white bean in broth with lots of aromatics, and a fennel & tomato ‘filling’. It sounds simple, and it really is, but it is wonderfully fragrant and hearty and luscious in texture, and perfect with some crusty bread and a glass of wine, if you’re that way inclined.
To keep the preparation short, I (sacrilegiously?) use canned beans and tomatoes, and in my humble and not at all classically trained opinion, the soup is magnificent.

A shortcut take on Julia Child's soup a la Victorine - a creamy white bean soup with tomato and fennel. Quick, easy, delicious, and super cheap!

Background story time: Pieter and I are obsessed with Australian cooking shows – and specifically with MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules. We seriously binge watch these shows. HOW are you guys so talented and so inventive over there??! We watch other cooking shows as well, but the Australian ones are always the perfect combination of personal investment in the characters and actually really creative and technical cooking. We’ve learned so much over the years from you guys!

Something I really love about watching these shows is also being able to see the progression in food trends. When we first started watching a few years ago, everything was about the French classics. People served up super traditional dishes of (hopefully) beautifully cooked proteins with creamy potato side dishes, vegetables in butter, and – the pièce de résistance – that oh-so-delicious, oh-so-fickle beurre blanc (notice a theme here?). These dishes were considered the finest of the fine, and always got the highest scores. People seemed to be able to casually whip up all manner of super technical sauces and desserts from the tops of their heads, and we – in preparation for when we would be on one of these shows, of course – decided that we needed to step up our game.

So we turned to Julia Child.

A shortcut take on Julia Child's soup a la Victorine - a creamy white bean soup with tomato and fennel. Quick, easy, delicious, and super cheap!

A shortcut take on Julia Child's soup a la Victorine - a creamy white bean soup with tomato and fennel. Quick, easy, delicious, and super cheap!

Our first forays into classical French cooking were of the butter sauce variety. Obviously.
I think we tried to make a beurre blanc at least five times before it actually came together instead of becoming an oily mess. Until then I’d always scoffed at contestants for getting it wrong 😛 I won’t get too technical here, but to make a beurre blanc you need to add teeny tiny cubes of very cold butter to a pan in about two cube increments. There’s also a whole process of lowering and increasing the heat, and about 8762907 different ways you could ruin your sauce before it’s time to serve. No pressure.
We felt like kings once we got it right! But then we ate a whole batch (meant for six) between the two of us in one sitting, and then we had to take a good hard look at our life choices and decide that we couldn’t go on this way.

Later on we also tried our hands at a fish soup (my blog is vegetarian but I’m in fact ‘pescetarian’). It was another fun task, and the soup was delicious, but with the sheer amount of WORK (not to mention oil! surprisingly) it wasn’t destined to become a weeknight staple.

And so I guess, in our efforts to keep our arteries somewhat clear and to keep up a good rotation of relatively quick & easy meals, Julia Child’s book sort of fell into disuse. I LOVE fatty things (I think there’s evidence of that a’plenty on this blog!) but if I’m going to put my heart through such a workout, I want it to really be justified 😛 And I can’t justify heart palpitations for fish soup!
Speaking of fatty things… Leafing through Julia’s book has got me thinking about my own French Canadian background, and in particular about tarte au sucre. Literally sugar pie. It’s made with lots and lots of butter and condensed milk… I’m making a mental note right now to get that recipe on here. You NEED IT!

A shortcut take on Julia Child's soup a la Victorine - a creamy white bean soup with tomato and fennel. Quick, easy, delicious, and super cheap!

This soupe a la Victorine is almost like the antithesis of what I’d come to think of as classical French cooking. Sure, in her recipe Julia Child calls for dry beans, which naturally adds to the cooking time, but otherwise the dish is SUPER simple. Foolproof, even, and yet full of wonderful flavour. So if you’re looking to dip your toe into the world of (sort of) French cooking, or if you’re just looking for a new soup to add to your rotation, give this one a go!

Julia Child’s Soupe a la Victorine

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Julia Child’s Soupe a la Victorine

Ingredients

2 400g cans cannellini beans (so 800g/about 2 pounds total), rinsed and drained
1 onion, sliced into fine rings
2 tbsp olive oil
1 liter (4 cups) vegetable broth
1/2 tsp dried sage
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried basil
2 bay leaves
salt & white pepper, to taste*
fresh flat-leaf parsley, for serving
For the filling
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bulb fennel, fronds, tops & core removed, finely diced**
1 (400 g) can whole peeled tomatoes***
2 tbsp (70 g) tomato paste
salt & white pepper

Instructions

1. In a big soup pan over a high heat, fry the onion in the olive oil until brown - about 3-5 minutes. Then lower the heat to medium and let cook until softened.
2. Add the veggie broth and all ingredients except for the beans and the parsley. Cover and bring to a simmer. Allow to simmer away while you get the filling ready.
3. For the filling: in a saucepan (frying pan) over medium heat, sauté the onion and the fennel with a pinch of salt until slightly softened, about 6-8 minutes.
4. Add the garlic to the fennel & onion pan and sauté for another minute, just to soften it, then add the tomato paste and cook another minute.
5. Add the tomatoes to the fennel & onion pan, and use the back of a wooden spoon to break them down.
6. Allow everything to come to a gentle simmer, and continue to cook for about 10 minutes, or until the fennel is softened but still has a slight bite.
7. Now, back to the broth: remove the bay leaves and add in the cannellini beans. Remove from the heat, allow to cool for a minute or two, and then carefully use an immersion blender to blend everything up until nice and smooth.
8. Finally, return to the heat and add the tomato mixture to the bean mixture, stirring to combine.
9. Serve with an extra crack of pepper and some fresh parsley, and if desired some nice crusty bread. Enjoy!

Notes

*You could definitely use black pepper, obviously! **The easiest way to prepare fennel, in my opinion, is to first chop off the top, then cut the bulb into quarters and cut the tough core out from each quarter. ***This could be down to the quality of the tomatoes I used, but I've made this soup with diced tomatoes and it just wasn't quite as rich for some reason. Do as you wish, of course, but this is my warning to you!

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