Soupe au Pistou is classic French soup that makes the most of fresh summer vegetables and herbs. You’ll want to enjoy that pistou by the spoonful!
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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 basket!), 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 and no nuts. I say “usually,” because, like all traditional recipes, the ingredients used vary from one family and region to the next.
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 I used to often make this soup using canned beans because I always forgot to soak the beans overnight. But now that I’ve discovered the quick-soaking method, I’m back at using dry navy beans every time! Dry navy beans provide a better texture to soupe au pistou, so if you can swing the extra hour the quick-soaking method requires, by all means, go the traditional route. (You’ll find instructions to quick-soak navy beans in the recipe below.)
Soaking the Navy Beans (skip if using canned beans): Rinse and sort the beans. Soak the beans overnight covered in cold water. The next morning, drain the beans, rinse, and use as directed below.
Quick-Soak Method: Rinse and sort the beans. Transfer to a saucepan and cover with 2 inches (5 cm) water. Bring to a boil, and keep boiling for 1 minute. Turn the heat off, cover the saucepan, and let rest for 1 hour. Drain the beans, rinse, and use as directed below.
Cooking the Navy Beans: Transfer the soaked beans in a large saucepan. Add the bay leaves and add enough water to cover the beans with about 2 inches (5 cm) of water.
Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and set aside while you prepare the soup.
Make the Soupe au Pistou: 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.
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.
SERVING: 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.
MAKE IT DAIRY-FREE & VEGAN: Make sure to use vegetable stock and replace the parmesan cheese with nutritional yeast, or omit it completely.
MAKE IT GLUTEN-FREE: Make sure to use a gluten-free variety of short pasta.
Did you make this?
Tell me how you liked it! Leave a comment or take a picture and tag it with @foodnouveau on Instagram.
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