Ah soupe au pistou, I love you, thanks for making every single bite a golden taste of Summer!
No other dish better defines Provence than soupe au pistou, the famous vegetable, bean, and pasta soup. Within a bowl you will discover the edible history of the ‘arrière-pays’, or hinterlands of Provence. A region where thrifty farmers have long tended their fields, growing some of France’s most amazing vegetables and fruits. It is a soup born from austerity and frugality; making the best use of what is in season and what is on hand.
This version is based on what my maman taught me, though she may roll her eyes at the very thought of canned beans and canned San Marzano tomatoes. I find them to be worthy substitutes with little loss in terms of quality and/or flavor.
Soupe au Pistou
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 each onion chopped
- 4 each carrot chopped
- 1 each leek chopped, washed
- 4 cloves garlic mashed
- 2 each zucchini chopped
- 1/2 14 ounce can San Marzano tomatoes
- 2 quart water
- 1 can Great Northern beans
- 1 cup green beans chopped
- 2 each potatoes peeled and cubed
- 1 each bay leaf
- sea salt
- black pepper
- 1 cup vermicelli cooked
- 1 cup grated Gruyère or Parmesan
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 cup shredded Parmesan
- 1 each fingerling potato peeled , boiled
- 1 cup olive oil
- 4 ounces fresh basil
Soupe au pistou
Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, and washed leeks. and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and zucchini and cook until they are soft and your kitchen is filled with a beautiful scent that would make Marcel Pagnol smile, about 3 or 4 minutes. Squeeze each of the tomatoes in your hand until they pop, then add them and their juices, as well as the water, beans, green beans, potatoes, and bay leaf to the pot and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. Taste the soup and season with salt and pepper to taste. I recommend letting soup sit overnight to develop the flavors.
Combine the garlic, Parmesan, and olive oil into the bowl of a food processor. Pull a piece of potato out of the soup and add it to the food processor. Process until creamy and smooth. Add the basil and pulse just until the basil is fully incorporated.
Ladle the soup into 4 warmed bowls, divide the pasta between them, add a dollop of pistou, and sprinkle the Gruyère over each.
I add a small bit of boiled potato to the pistou for two reasons: one, it makes the consistency creamier, and two, it helps the basil keep its bright green color.
This soup has been at the center of my family’s table my entire life. I recently visited my cousin Andre in Provence, where he and his wife, Laurence, served pistou with bleu cheese. This is neither typical nor Provençal. Yet it tasted so good and I felt completely at home with the soup. Feel free to simmer the broth with a ham bone in it. There are no rules, just what pleases you.