Growing up, my mom made this delicious soup recipe from a Williams-Sonoma cookbook. My favorite part was getting to add more pistou, or pesto, spoonfuls and shredded parmesan to my own bowl. Being an avid cheese lover, as far back as the age of 5 I’ve been told, I loved watching the cheese melt all over the broth. This recipe is either the same or very close to the one my mom used and just as delicious as I remembered.
The author of this cookbook explains that this Provençal soup is really just the French version of Italian minestrone soup, and the pistou, or pesto, that is stirred in at the end is also borrowed from their Italian neighbors. Interestingly, Provençal pesto is usually made without pine nuts, and some versions add tomatoes, such as this recipe.
The only change I made to the recipe was to use a Bullet blender to make the pistol instead of doing it by hand with a mortal and pestle. Of course, the hand blending would be much more romantic and timeless but I decided to go with a 20th century invention and blend it up in under 20 seconds. I did two 10-second long pulses to get the desired consistency of grainy and not pure liquid.
This recipe is perfect for cleaning out the fridge. We used up lots of vegetables, including some pretty purple carrots that are yellow on the inside and basil from a local farm. I didn’t have haricots vests or green beans but that’s okay the soup was still lovely and colorful.
The pistou was very garlicky so I think next time I’d use just 2 garlic cloves instead of 3. The pistou was once again my favorite part, just as in my childhood, adding a burst of zesty, salty flavor to the rather simple broth. I might double the pistou recipe next time and toast some baguette slices and dip them in it alongside the soup. This recipe is perfect for a larger gathering as well, just double or triple the recipe and voila!
Soupe au Pistou
Recipe adapted from: A Kitchen in France: A Year of Cooking in My Farmhouse, by Mimi Thorisson
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 120 minutes
For the soup:
- 4 oz. dried white beans, rinsed and soaked in water to cover overnight
- 4 oz. dried kidney beans, rinsed and soaked in water to cover overnight
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 1/2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 oz. haricots verts, cut into 3/8-inch (1-cm) pieces
- 2 tomatoes, peeled, halved, seeded and diced
- 1 zucchini, diced
- 1/2 onion, thinly sliced
- 2 small carrots, peeled and diced
- 1/3 leek, white and pale green parts, thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 3 cups (1.5 l) water
- A few sprigs fresh thyme
- Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 cup (2 1/4 oz.) small elbow macaroni
For the pistou:
- Leaves from 1 bunch fresh basil, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves (I recommend trying 2 first because it’s very zesty with 3!)
- 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup (1 oz.) grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
- Coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 ripe tomato, peeled, halved, seeded and diced (I used 3 cherry tomatoes)
1. Drain the white and kidney beans and put them in a large saucepan. Add the bay leaf and enough water to cover the beans by 3 inches. Bring to a simmer, and simmer until the beans are tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Drain and set aside.
2. In a medium-large pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the haricots verts, tomatoes, zucchini, onions, carrots, leek and garlic and sauté for 4 minutes. Add the water and thyme and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, lower the heat to a simmer and simmer for 10 minutes.
3. Add the macaroni and cook until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes.
4. While the pasta is cooking, make the pistou. Combine the basil and garlic in a mortar and pound to a paste. Gradually add the olive oil, Parmesan, and coarse salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the tomato.
5. Add the cooked beans to the soup. Season with fine sea salt.
6. Ladle the soup into bowls and add a spoon of pistou to each. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve immediately. Serve leftover pistou in a separate pinch bowl.