Soupe au pistou is a classic Provençal dish: ripe vegetables, fresh herbs, inexpensive ingredients. Soul-warming, bone-sticking nutrition in a bowl. It’s sort of like minestrone: a bean soup, flavored with fresh herbs, then with any vegetable you can think of thrown in, but especially tomatoes, then some pasta to provide a little thickening. Traditionalists say it requires haricots vests, zucchini (or courgettes, if you go that way), potatoes and tomatoes, but others say it’s whatever you have handy.
The secret to soupe au pistou, though, is the pistou itself: a dollop of basil/garlic/olive oil sauce on top. Don’t call it pesto - that would contain pine nuts, which pistou does not. Again, traditionalists say no cheese either, but I find a little Gruyere helps to make it smooth and delicious.
There are countless recipes for soupe au pistou out there. This is one I used, and it came out great. Well, I didn’t exactly. I didn’t have the cabbage and forgot the zucchini. I think both would help boost the flavor.
Two other notes: I didn’t have a bay leaf and used rosemary, which was nice but obviously quite different. The most important thing here is to ensure that you have the herbs ties up or contained; otherwise, they fall apart and you’re left with random rosemary needles.
Second, If you’re using green beans, make sure they are cut into small lengths so they’ll fit on a spoon.
The thrill is stirring that bright green dollop of pistou into the soup. It’s delicious. My son loved this one, especially with a fresh, warm baguette to soak up the soup. We also had some French butter on hand, which was very pleasant with the bread.
Be forewarned: this makes a LOT, so don’t make a vat of it the day before you go away on a four-day business trip. Bon appétit!
Serves 8 at least
FOR THE SOUP
- 1 ½ cups (360 ml) white beans, soaked for six hours in 6 cups water and drained
- 2 quarts (1.9 liters) water
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 4 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
- A bouquet garni made with a few sprigs each thyme and parsley, a Parmesan rind and a bay leaf
- Salt to taste
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil
- 2 leeks, white and light green part only, cleaned and sliced
- 1 pound tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, or 1 can, with liquid
- 2 cups shredded savoy or green cabbage
- 2 large carrots, diced
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- 1 medium-size zucchini, scrubbed and diced
- 2 medium-size turnips, peeled and diced
- ½ pound (250 g) green beans, trimmed and broken into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups), blanched for five minutes and set aside
- ½ cup (120 ml) soup pasta, such as macaroni or small shells (or ditalini if you have some left over from when you tried the koshari recipe!)
- Freshly ground pepper
FOR THE PISTOU
- 2 large garlic cloves, halved, green shoots removed
- Salt to taste
- 2 cups, tightly packed, fresh basil leaves
- ⅓ cup (80 ml) extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup (120 ml) freshly grated Gruyere
- Freshly ground pepper
- ½ cup (120 ml) freshly grated Gruyere for sprinkling
- Drain the white beans and combine with 2 quarts water in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven. Bring to a boil. Skim off any foam, then add half the onion, half the garlic and the bouquet garni. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer 45 minutes. Add salt to taste.
- Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet, and add the remaining chopped onion and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until tender, about five minutes. Add the leeks and remaining garlic. Stir together for a few minutes, and add the tomatoes. Cook, stirring, until the tomatoes have cooked down slightly and the mixture is fragrant, five to 10 minutes. Stir this mixture into the soup pot, add all of the remaining vegetables except the green beans, and bring back to a simmer. Cover and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes to an hour. Taste and adjust the seasonings. By sautéing the aromatics before adding them to the soup, you help their flavor develop an additional richness.
- While the soup is simmering, blanch the green beans for five minutes in salted boiling water. Transfer to a bowl of ice-cold water. Drain and set aside.
- To make the pistou, mash the garlic with a generous pinch of salt in a mortar and pestle. Remove it and set aside. Grind the basil to a paste in the mortar, a handful at a time, then add the garlic back in and mix together well. Work in the olive oil a tablespoon at a time, then stir in the cheese. You can use a food processor too. It’s really OK.
- Add the pasta to the simmering soup about 10 minutes before serving, and cook until cooked al dente. Add pepper, taste and adjust salt. Stir the blanched green beans into the soup and heat through. Serve, adding a spoonful of pesto to each bowl for guests to stir in. Pass additional Parmesan for sprinkling.
Recipe adapted from https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1013986-soupe-au-pistou. Image from wikipedia.fr