In the Provence region of France they make this bright, flavorful, garlicky, basil-y vegetable bean soup called soupe au pistou, or pistou soup. It’s awesome and easy, and I’m going to show you how to make it.
Pistou: What is the What?
In Provence they make this sauce called pistou. It’s a mixture of fresh garlic, basil, and olive oil. Sometimes it’s got some grated hard cheese mixed in.
If you’re thinking to yourself, “It sounds like Pesto without the nuts” you’re right. That’s exactly what it is. In fact, if we can trust that font of knowledge Wikipedia, the origin of pistou is Genovese pesto.
As just about everyone knows, pesto makes a great sauce for pasta. In France, however, pistou is often simply used as a condiment. And it’s also stirred into vegetable and bean soup to make the utterly sublime pistou soup. This is, of course, a brilliant idea, as pistou (or pesto) stirred into anything makes that anything delicious.
Provence’s Famous Pistou Soup
I spent like two hours researching soupe au pistou (pistou soup), so now I’m an expert. Let me mansplain to you what it’s all about. No, no. I don’t mind at all.
Franco-American gem of a man…wait. He’s not Franco-American. He’s an American person who lives in Paris. Yeah. Anyway, American gem of a man living in Paris, David Lebovitz shared one simple rule about pistou soup. You’re not supposed to make it with stock. The idea is to showcase the delicious but delicate flavor of the fresh vegetables. So I adopted this rule. Start with water.
Another rule, which isn’t so much a rule but just an obvious requirement for pistou soup, is that you have to put pistou into it. Pistou soup without pistou isn’t pistou soup. Nope. It’s just soup. This should make total sense to you. It works the same way with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
The soup? Vegetables and white beans, and some pasta if that’s what you fancy.. Think minestrone with some pesto (sans nuts!) stirred in. The people of Provence are clever! Why didn’t the Italians think of that? They already had all of the stuff!
What Kind of Veg Goes in Pistou Soup?
Okay, here is where we (I’m using the royal ‘we’ here because I really mean ‘I’) depart from rules.I don’t think you should get too hung up on what kind of vegetables to put in the soup. Provencal people use the vegetables they have available and I think you should follow suit.
You’ll see in the recipe what I used, but you don’t have to use the same stuff.Use what you have.Use what you like.
One think I will say though is that you probably do want to be aware of the amount of time it takes too cook various vegetables. For instance, you’ll see I cooked carrots and squash longer than, say, green beans because the beans would be mush before the carrots got soft. So watch for that.
Other than that? Go nuts (without the nuts)! Have at it. I think you’ll like it. It’s light. It’s bright. It’s got 14 freakin’ grams of fiber in a bowl! That’s impressive. Let me know how it works out for you.
- 1 ¼ Cups Dry White Beans (Navy or Cannellini)
- 4 Quarts Water
- 1 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
- 1 Bay Leaf
- 2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 Yellow Onion, peeled and diced
- ½ Red Bell Pepper, seeded and diced
- 2 Carrots, peeled and diced
- 1 Teaspoon Dried Thyme
- ½ Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- 1 Small Golden Squash, peeled and diced
- 4 Vine Ripened Tomatoes, diced (or use a canned tomatoes)
- 4 Small Zucchini, sliced into thin half-moons
- ½ Pound Fresh Green Beans, stems removed, sliced into 1 inch pieces
- 1 Cup, packed, Chopped Swiss Chard
- ½ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil, plus 2 Tablespoons
- 2 Cups Fresh Basil Leaves, packed
- 4 Cloves Fresh Garlic
- 4 Ounces Comté Cheese, grated (or use Parmesan)
- Rinse beans and soak in a pot of cool water overnight (at least 6 hours). Water should cover the beans by several inches as some of it will be absorbed.
- Drain the soaking liquid from the beans and add 4 quarts of cool water, ½ teaspoon of salt, and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer on the stovetop. Cover and simmer until beans are al dente (cooked but still a little firm in the middle)-about 45 minutes..
- While the beans cook, saute the onion, pepper, and carrot in 2 tablespoons of olive oil with the remaining salt until soft and translucent.
- Add the thyme and the squash and cook until the squash begins to soften on the outside (about 5 minutes).
- Add the onion and squash mixture to the cooked beans and water. Add black pepper, tomoates, zucchini, and green beans. Cook until the zucchini and squash are soft.
- Stir in the chard and remove from heat.
- Add garlic, basil, and olive oil to a blender. Blend until basil is finely chopped.
- Pour mixture into a bowl and stir in the shredded cheese.
- Ladle the soup into shallow soup bowls. Add a large spoonful of the pistou. Stir the pistou into the soup before eating.