This updated version of the classic Provençal soup has no Parmesan cheese and finishes with a vegetable garnish.
To prepare beans, place them in large stockpot, and add enough water to cover by 2 inches. Cover pot, and set aside at room temperature to soak overnight.
Drain beans, and return to pot. Cover with 12 cups water. Add onion and garlic, and bring to a boil, skimming off any foam. Reduce heat to low, and cook until beans are very tender, for about 21/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Add water, if needed, or boil soup down until thickened but not dried out. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
To make vegetable garnish, cover drying rack with paper towels. Heat saucepan of water to boiling, and cook beans for 3 minutes. Add zucchini, and cook until beans are tender, about 2 minutes more. Drain, rinse vegetables under cold water and place on rack. For croutons, peel 1/2 potato, and cut into 1/8-inch dice. Heat peanut oil to 375F, and deep-fry 2 tsp. diced potatoes until golden. Remove from heat, drain and set aside.
To make purée, place oil, garlic and basil in blender. Process until smooth, pulsing on and off and stopping to scrape down sides of container. Season with salt and pepper.
To serve, bring soup to a boil. Season vegetables with salt and pepper. Stir three-quarters of vegetables and all basil purée into soup. Ladle into four soup plates. Divide remaining vegetables over top of each serving, and garnish with julienned basil.
Michel Richard’s wine steward, sommelier Mark Slater, recommends Jurançon Blanc Sec “Seve d’Automne” Domaine Cauhapé, 1998, which has a lemony bouquet.