Soupe au Pistou
(French Provençal vegetable and bean soup with basil-garlic sauce)
A Provençal vegetable and bean soup, soupe au pistou is a lot like an Italian minestrone. But the French version gets all gussied up with a big a dollop of pistou, a basil and garlic paste similar to Ligurian pesto. This healthful soup is served in the summertime using only the best of the season's produce.
4 to 6 servings
- Olive oil -- 3 tablespoons
- Onion, finely chopped -- 1
- Tomatoes, peeled and chopped -- 2 cups
- Stock or water -- 6 cups
- White beans, drained and rinsed -- 1 (15-ounce) can
- Red beans, drained and rinsed -- 1 (15-ounce) can
- Potatoes, peeled and diced -- 4
- Small zucchini, diced -- 3
- Green beans, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces -- 1/2 pound
- Salt and pepper -- to taste
- Basil, stems removed -- 1 bunch
- Garlic, chopped -- 5 or 6 cloves
- Kosher salt -- a pinch
- Grated Parmesan cheese -- 1/4 cup
- Olive oil -- 1/4 cup
- Freshly ground black pepper -- to taste
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium flame. Add the onion and saute until translucent, 3 or 4 minutes. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and simmer for 3 or 4 minutes more.
- Add the stock or water, beans and potatoes to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Stir in the zucchini, green beans, salt and pepper and simmer for another 15 minutes, or until all the vegetables are tender but not overcooked.
- While the soup is simmering, put the basil, garlic and a pinch of salt into a mortar or food processor. Mash with a pestle or pulse in the food processor until it forms a smooth paste while still retaining a little texture. Stir in the cheese, olive oil and black pepper until smooth.
- Place a good spoonful of pistou into the bottom of individual soup bowls. Adjust the seasoning of the soup and ladle into the bowls. Serve with crusty bread. You can also serve the pistou separately and let each diner stir it to the soup as he or she likes.
Soupe au Pistou Variations
- Vegetables: Soupe au pistou is above all a summer dish, and you should really only use vegetables that come into season in the summertime. Vegetables that often make their way into soupe au pistou include peas, Romano beans and fennel. Leeks, celery and carrots show up in many recipes, even in France, but they don't truly come into season until the fall, so technically they shouldn't be used.
- Beans: If you can buy or grow fresh shelling beans, by all means use them. Or instead of using canned beans, cook your own dried beans. White flageolet beans, cannelini beans and red kidney beans are common in soupe au pistou. But you can use navy or Great Northern beans or even chickpeas. If you are cooking your own dried beans, try adding a ham hock to the pot while they cook. Remove the meat when the beans are done, chop it up and add it to the pot.
- The Pistou: Pistou was originally made with just basil, garlic and olive oil. No cheese. You can eliminate the Parmesan cheese if you like. Or use an aged pecorino or other hard grating cheese. Some cooks grind a small amount of chopped tomatoes into the pistou, marrying the flavors of the soup and the sauce together. Pistou can also be tossed with pasta or spread on slices of bread.
- Adding Pasta: It's very common to add a small handful of soup pasta, vermicelli or broken spagetti to the pot along with the zucchini and green beans.