Make us your home page
Instagram

Read & Feed: 'Provence, 1970' evokes a James Beard soup

The Swiss chard and leeks play off the tomatoes in this healthy James Beard soup.

Tom Valeo | Special to the Times

The Swiss chard and leeks play off the tomatoes in this healthy James Beard soup.

BOOK: In 1970, James Beard weighed more than 300 pounds. Desperate to reduce, he visited celebrity diet doctor Georges Pathé on the outskirts of Grasse near the southeast coast of France. The doctor prescribed the "Prudence Diet," which consisted of portions that looked microscopic to the rotund chef and food writer. While on the diet Beard was always hungry — a condition made worse by the fact he was not supposed to drink wine. But on a Sunday evening in December 1970, he and M.F.K. Fisher, plus two of her friends, went to dinner at the home of Julia and Paul Child. As recounted in Provence, 1970, an affectionate micro history by Luke Barr, Fisher's grandnephew, Beard arrived early and began poking around the kitchen with the hostess. When he spotted a large head of chard, he decided to make soup. "Child and Beard loved cooking together," Barr writes, "and had even given themselves a joint nickname a few years earlier: Gigi, a combination of their names (or at least the J's in their first names, as pronounced in French). The Gigis are in the kitchen, they would say. She wore a bright flower-patterned dress, and he had matched her with an equally colorful bow tie." Beard sauteed leeks and garlic for his soup, and added tomatoes. Child gleefully named it "Soupe Barbue" — French for "Bearded Soup" (Beard-ed soup. Get it?) with "the rich sweetness of the chard and leeks set off by the acidity of the tomatoes," according to Barr. "And it was healthy, too, Beard insisted, made with a minimum of olive oil." Child, despite rotating the chicken multiple times in the oven so it would roast evenly, undercooked it. "You'd think that I'd know how to cook a chicken by now!" grumped the author of the recently published Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

WHY READ? Relying on his great-aunt's letters and a journal from 1970, Barr has produced a plausible reconstruction of a brief moment in 1970 when M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child and James Beard found themselves together in France. Child, who had just completed the second volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, was already a TV celebrity in the United States; Beard was finishing his ambitious American Cookery; and Fisher, a prolific author, had established herself as the pre-eminent American food writer. In addition, Child's co-author, Simone Beck, was also there, along with their editor, Judith Jones, and so was the reclusive chef Richard Olney, who had just published The French Menu Cookbook. Calling such a convergence historic, as Barr does, may be a bit melodramatic, but it certainly was a coincidence, and Barr's account renders it less as history and more as a heartwarming story of friendship, conviviality, and the joys of sharing good food.

MAKE IT: James Beard never wrote down the recipe for his Soupe Barbue, but Barr provides enough clues to suggest a reasonable facsimile. Though the ingredients in the accompanying recipe probably varies somewhat from Beard's, it clearly provides "rich sweetness" that Barr mentioned, along with the health benefits Beard proclaimed.

Tom Valeo, Times correspondent

Read & Feed is a monthly column in Taste that matches possible book club selections with food to serve at meetings. If you have suggestions, send an email to features@tampabay.com. Put BOOK FOOD in the subject line.

>>EASY

"Soupe Barbue" (Tomato-Swiss Chard Soup)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 leeks, washed and chopped

Kosher salt

Black pepper

2 garlic cloves, minced

4 teaspoons tomato paste

2 teaspoons sugar

½ teaspoons ground cumin

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon herbes de Provence

1 (28-ounce) can peeled tomatoes

½ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped

4 cups chicken or vegetable broth

1 (15-ounce) can (about 1 ½ cups) garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

8 ounces Swiss chard (about 2 ½ cups), stems removed and leaves cut into strips

½ cup of cream

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, leeks, salt and pepper.

Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion begins to soften and turn translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, tomato paste, sugar, cumin, allspice, cayenne and herbes de Provence. Stir to combine and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and simmer about 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the basil, broth and garbanzo beans. Simmer about 30 minutes. Stir in the chard and simmer about 5 minutes more. Add cream and additional salt and pepper if needed.

Source: Karen Pryslopski, Times

Read & Feed: 'Provence, 1970' evokes a James Beard soup 01/27/14 [Last modified: Monday, January 27, 2014 5:05pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 24

    Events

    St. Pete Pride Block Party and Night Parade: St. Pete Pride's popular parade moves to downtown St. Petersburg's scenic waterfront. The block party brings DJs, food and drinks starting at 2 p.m. The parade steps off at Fifth Ave NE and Bayshore at 7 p.m. with fireworks at 9:45 p.m. 2 p.m., North Straub Park, Fifth …

    Thousands line the streets of Central Ave. during the St. Pete Pride Parade in St. Petersburg.  [Saturday, June 25, 2016] [Photo Luis Santana | Times]
  2. Bar review: Les Partners Lounge goes old-school in Clearwater

    Bars & Spirits

    There are some local places that I'm shocked aren't more well known, and I think that's the result of a general aversion to stepping out of one's comfort zone. I make regular concerted efforts to step outside of mine, which often leads me to strange and rewarding drinking establishments.

    Les Partners Lounge is an old-school, smoker-friendly cocktail lounge and live music venue tucked away in a nondescript shopping plaza in Island Estates.
  3. Local craft beer of the week: Plongeur a L'eponge, Saint Somewhere Brewing Co.

    Bars & Spirits

    Tarpon Springs' Saint Somewhere Brewing Co. has a somewhat idiosyncratic approach to wild ale brewing, utilizing an open brewing approach involving uncovered fermenters in order to brew beer with local ambient microbes, reminiscent in some ways to the fermentation techniques used by rustic farmhouse breweries in Belgium …

     Plongeur a?€š€™L?ˆš??ponge, Saint Somewhere Brewing Company, 6/23/17  Electric Chair Sour Shandy, Angry Chair Brewing, 6/30/17   Pulp Friction Grapefruit IPA, Motorworks Brewing 7/7/17
  4. ‘80s acts dominate lineup of 2017 Epcot Food and Wine Festival

    Blogs

    Oh, yes. Christmas is coming early this year to ‘80s fans in Florida. Disney’s Epcot Center has announced the lineup to its “Eat to the Beat” concert series that coincides with their annual International Food & Wine Festival.

  5. Equality Florida leader honored at Tampa U2 concert

    Briefs

    TAMPA — Equality Florida director Nadine Smith couldn't attend last week's U2 concert in Tampa, but she can tell you which of her friends had great seats for the June 14 show at Raymond James Stadium.

    Nadine Smith, Equality Florida founder and CEO, received a unique distinction last week when U2 included her in a montage of photos saluting activism and women leaders.