Mastering the Art of French Eating
I first discovered Soupe au Pistou (or Provençal Vegetable Soup with Tomato-Basil Pesto) when reading Mastering the Art of French Eating by Ann Ma. This book is not to be confused with Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Simone Beck, Louisette Berthole, and Julia Child, which also has a great recipe for Soupe Au Pistou.
Ann Ma describes her experience traveling to a village in Southern France during summer vegetable harvest time. When gardens are bursting with ripe tomatoes, zucchini, green beans, white beans, fresh basil, and potatoes– what to do?
They have the perfect solution in this small Provençal village. Everyone gathers with their surplus produce to slice, dice, and make huge pots of brothy Soupe au Pistou to be shared with friends and family. It’s a real community event, and I imagine it’s much more fun than slaving away by yourself in a hot kitchen in July or August.
Developing the Recipe for Soupe Au Pistou
In preparing to teach this recipe, I referenced a few other versions of the recipe, the one in Mastering the Art of French Cooking and the most recent one in Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best Soups. I came up with this version, that can easily made vegan by leaving out the parmesan cheese or serving it on the side.
If you’re using leeks (rather than onions) in this recipe, go ahead and make a simple stock out of the green parts. Just slice the green parts of the leek, rinse well under cold water, then place them in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and simmer for about 20-30 minutes. Strain out the leek greens and you are left with a light and flavorful broth to use in your Soupe Au Pistou!
“Early summer is the Mediterranean season for soupe au pistou, when fresh basil, fresh white beans, and broad mange-tout beans are all suddenly available, and the market women shout in the streets, ‘Mesdames, faites le bon piste, faites le pistou!’ The pistou itself, like the Italian pesto, is a sauce made of garlic, basil, tomato, and olive oil, and is just as good on spaghetti as it is in this rich vegetable soup. Fortunately, this soup is not confined to summer and fresh vegetables, for you can use canned navy beans, fresh or frozen string beans, and a fragrant dried basil. Other vegetables in season may be added with the green beans as you wish, such as peas, diced zucchini, and green or red bell peppers.” — Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Simone Beck, Louisette Bertholle, and Julia Child
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 cups leek (white parts) or onion, diced
- 2 cups carrots, diced
- 2 cups potatoes (yukon gold or red), diced
- 8 cups spring or filtered water, divided
- 2 cups zucchini, diced
- 2 cups fresh green beans, 1/2” lengths
- 2 cups cooked cranberry beans or white beans
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- 1/2 cup fresh or canned tomato purée or 2 medium fresh tomatoes (seeded)
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated (optional)
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup fruity extra-virgin olive oil
- Heat large soup pot over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add leeks or onion and sauté with a pinch of salt for a few minutes.
- Add carrots and potatoes and stir to combine.
- Add 4 cups water, cover, and bring to a boil. Turn to low and let simmer for about 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare the pistou by placing ingredients in a blender and blending until smooth. Instead of tomato puree, you can add two seeded Roma tomatoes to the blender.
- Add zucchini, green beans, cranberry or white beans (with cooking liquid if homemade; drained if canned), salt, and pepper. Add remaining 4 cups water (or more if needed), bring back to a boil, then lower heat and simmer slowly for 3 minutes.
- Stir pistou into soup and simmer 3 minutes more.
- Test for seasonings and add a little more salt and pepper if needed.
- Serve with rice, pasta, or fresh bread. Bon appétit!