Soupe au Pistou is a 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.)
Ever thought pistou and pesto were one and the same, but from different countries? Not quite! But the difference is quite subtle: pistou does not contain pine nuts, and the cheese is optional, too. There probably are as many pistou recipes as there are French cooks, but I like mine like Julia Child made hers: with a bit of tomato flesh blended in, which adds a nice touch of acidity.
When you store pistou in a jar, pour a thin layer of olive oil to fully cover the top of the pistou before closing the jar. This creates an airtight seal and prevents pistou from browning.
Absolutely! Store pistou in a container that will hold it tightly, cover with olive oil as advised above, then freeze for up to 3 months. Frozen pistou will thaw overnight in the fridge, or within 1 hour at room temperature.
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