Soupe au pistou

A traditional Provençal soup that makes the most of fresh summer vegetables and herbs. {Jump to Recipe}

Soupe au pistou // FoodNouveau.com

{2016 Update: this post was originally published in 2011. Now with a new headnote and new picture!}

I first made Soupe au Pistou after stumbling upon a recipe by David Lebovitz, and I’ve made it countless times since. It has become my quintessential summer soup: it’s light-bodied, filled with seasonal veggies (the soup will make great use of your CSA!), and topped with a delicious condiment you’ll fall in love with. In case you’re wondering, pistou is the French answer to pesto, with the difference that it usually contains a fresh tomato but no nuts. I say “usually,” because like all traditional recipes, it’s much more complicated than that.

If you’re curious to learn more about the origins of Soupe au Pistou and why it’s so near and dear to the hearts of the French, pick up a fascinating book written by my friend Ann Mah: Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris. Ann has a full chapter dedicated to the recipe, and she tells the story of how she managed to get herself invited to the kitchen of the lady responsible for the Soupe au Pistou festival held in the town of Bonnieux, in Provence, where the soup originates. While chopping hundreds of pounds of vegetables (they were making soup for the whole village!), Ann is schooled by the group of local ladies that first look upon her with suspicion—“What is an American woman doing in our kitchen?”—and then warm up to her curiosity and enthusiasm. It’s a fun story that highlights the importance of culinary traditions.

Now back to my version of the soup: I have to admit that three times out of four, I make this soup using canned cannellini beans, either because I can’t find the fresh beans at the market (fresh cannellini and borlotti beans can be hard to find on this side of the ocean) or because I forgot to soak dried beans overnight. Traditionalists will probably want to throw stones at me for admitting this, but hey, it’s the truth—and if you want to take the same shortcut, you have my blessings. Know, though, that dried beans do offer a much better bite and texture, so they’re totally worth the extra effort. Just set yourself a reminder so you don’t forget the soaking step the day before you plan on making the soup!

Makes 10 servings.

Soupe au pistou

A traditional Provençal soup that makes the most of fresh summer vegetables and herbs.

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For the soup
1 cup [200g] dried cannellini beans (also called navy beans, see note), or one 14 oz [400 g] can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 bay leaves
3 tbsp [45 ml] olive oil
2 medium onions, peeled and diced, or 4 leeks, cleaned and sliced
2 tsp [10 ml] chopped fresh thyme
2 medium carrots (6oz [170g]), peeled and diced
2 medium zucchini (1lb [450g]) diced
½ lb [260g] green beans, tips removed and cut crosswise into quarters
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 tbsp [15 ml] sea salt, and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 qt [2L] vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup [250g] fresh or frozen peas
1 cup [100g] dried pasta; any small variety will do, such as orzo, vermicelli, elbows, or shells
For the pistou (makes about 1 cup)
1 large clove of garlic, peeled
Pinch of salt
2 cups [40g] packed fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 small tomato, peeled, seeded, and diced
1½ oz [45g] Parmesan cheese, grated
¼ cup [60ml] olive oil


To cook the beans (skip if using canned beans): Rinse and sort the beans. Soak the beans overnight covered in cold water.

The next day, drain the beans and put them in a large saucepan with the bay leaves and enough water to cover the beans with about 1½ quarts (1.5L) of water. Cook the beans for about an hour, or until tender, adding more water if necessary to keep them immersed. Once cooked, remove the beans from the heat and set aside.

To make the soup: In a Dutch oven or large stockpot, heat the olive oil. Add the onions or leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent.

Add the thyme, diced carrots, zucchini, green beans, garlic, and salt. Season with pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables start to soften. Add the vegetable stock and stir to combine. If using dried beans, add the cooked beans and their liquid. If using canned beans, add the drained and rinsed beans now. Next, add the peas and pasta or your choice. Bring the soup to a boil, then simmer for about 5 minutes, or until the pasta is cooked.

To make the pistou: In a food processor, pulse the garlic with a generous pinch of salt until it is finely chopped. Add the basil, tomato, and parmesan cheese, and pulse again until the mixture is relatively smooth. Add the olive oil to blend everything together and emulsify the pistou. Taste, and season with more salt if desired.

To serve: Ladle hot soup into bowls and add a generous spoonful of pistou to each serving. Keep extra pistou within reach because you’ll likely want to add more to the soup as you go.


  • If by the end of cooking, you find the soup too thick for your taste, thin it with additional stock or water (it will likely thicken as it cools, as the pasta soaks in more of the broth).
  • Try to dice all the vegetables about the same size: it makes for a nice presentation and ensures everything cooks evenly.

Recipe Credit: Adapted from David Lebovitz

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