Southern French Vegetable Soup
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
A soupe au pistou is a simple vegetable soup that the guests elevate to lofty heights by dolloping a French-style pesto—called a pistou—into each of their bowls.
Although this version is traditional, don’t limit yourself to any particular recipe. I for one am not always up to waiting for beans to soak (canned beans won’t work here) and sometimes leave them out when the summer craving for fresh basil strikes and I want a quick version of this soup. If I’m not trying to show off, I simply combine five or six peeled and seeded tomatoes, a few sliced zucchini, some garlic, and maybe a handful of dried macaroni. The soup then simmers just until the vegetables and pasta are soft.
Total Timeunder 1 hour
Make Ahead RecipeYes
OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Family Get-together
Equipmentblender, mortar and pestle
Taste and Texturecheesy, garlicky, herby, savory
Type of Dishhot soup
- ¼ Cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 leeks, washed, white and tender green parts, sliced
- 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
- 3 medium-size carrots, chopped
- 1 cup dried white beans such as navy or cannellini, soaked for 2 hours and cooked until tender, about 2½ cups cooked
- 4 medium-size zucchini, cut into ¼-inch slices
- 2 quarts chicken or vegetable broth or water
- 1 bouquet garni
- 1 cup miniature dried macaroni (ditalini)
- ½ pound green beans, preferably small French type, cut into 1-inch lengths
- Slices of French bread, toasted
- 8 garlic cloves, peeled
- 2 large bunches of fresh basil, stems removed, 2 cups tightly packed leaves
- 2 teaspoons coarse salt
- 2 cups finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 medium-size tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
- 1½ cups extra virgin olive oil
IN ADVANCE To make the soup base, heat the olive oil in a 4-quart pot over medium heat. Add the leeks, onion, and carrots. Stir until the leeks and onion turn translucent, about 10 minutes.
ADD the beans, zucchini, broth, and bouquet garni. Bring the soup to a simmer, simmer for about 5 minutes, and add the macaroni and green beans. Continue simmering for about 5 to 10 minutes, until the zucchini and macaroni have softened.
DON’T season the soup until you’ve added the pistou, which is very salty. If you’re not serving the soup right away, chill it as quickly as you can so the vegetables don’t overcook.
MAKE the pistou by hand or in a blender.
HAND METHOD If you have a mortar and pestle, combine the garlic, basil, and coarse salt in the mortar. Grind the mixture to a paste and add the cheese. Gradually work in the chopped tomato and then the olive oil.
IF you don’t have a mortar and pestle, chop the garlic finely and crush it into a paste with the side of a chef’s knife. Put the basil leaves on the cutting board with the garlic and sprinkle them with a few tablespoons of the olive oil (to prevent them from turning black during chopping). Chop the basil very finely.
COMBINE the basil and garlic in a bowl with the cheese and the chopped tomato. Add the salt.
BLENDER METHOD Put the tomatoes and then the rest of the ingredients except the olive oil in the blender. (The tomatoes go in first to provide liquid to get the mixture moving around.) Blend at high speed for about 1 minute, until the mixture turns into a paste. Transfer the pistou to a mixing bowl and stir in the olive oil. (The olive oil must be added by hand, or it will turn bitter.)
AT THE LAST MINUTE To serve, whisk half of the pistou into the hot soup, then season with salt if needed and pepper. Immediately ladle the soup into hot bowls. Serve the French bread toasts in a basket. Pass the remaining pistou at the table—in a bowl or mortar—and let guests help themselves.
SUGGESTIONS AND VARIATIONS
Although basil wilts quickly in the refrigerator, pistou will hold up for weeks if tightly sealed and for months if frozen. If you have the refrigerator or freezer space, making a quart of pistou (double the quantities given here) is a worthwhile project. You can use it not only to finish vegetable and fish soups but also as pasta sauce.
Pesto (pesto genoese) is almost identical to pistou and works perfectly here. Make pistou as directed but replace the tomatoes with 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts.
2001 James Peterson