← Back to Search Results
Southern French Vegetable Soup

Photo by: Joseph De Leo
Comments: 0


Soupe au Pistou

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.

Yield: Makes 12 servings


The 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
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Slices of French bread, toasted

The pistou:

  • 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.


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

Nutritional Information

Nutrients per serving (% daily value)

Nutritional information is based on 1/8 teaspoon added salt per serving.

Nutritional information does not include French Bread.

536kcal (27%)
265mg (27%)
22mg (37%)
212mcg RAE (7%)
19mg (6%)
1183mg (49%)
8g (39%)
39g (60%)
3mg (16%)

Would you like to leave a comment about this recipe?

Notify me of new comments on this recipe. Add comment

We'd love to hear what you think!

Please or to add a comment to this recipe.

Sign up for
The Cookstr Weekly

Free handpicked cookbook recipes delivered straight to your inbox

Explore Cookbooks on Cookstr

lucid-food Lucid Food
by Louisa Shafia
raos-cookbook Rao's Cookbook
by Frank Pellegrino
bistro-cooking-at-home-more-than-150-classic-and-contemporary-dishes Bistro Cooking at Home: Mor...
by Gordon Hamersley
ham-an-obsession-with-the-hindquarter Ham: An Obsession with the ...
by Bruce Weinstein, Mark Scarbrough
the-vegetable-dishes-i-cant-live-without The Vegetable Dishes I Can'...
by Mollie Katzen, Greg Atkinson
sunday-suppers-at-lucques Sunday Suppers at Lucques
by Suzanne Goin
fresh-from-the-farmers-market-year-round-recipes-for-the-pick-of-the-crop Fresh from the Farmers' Mar...
by Janet Fletcher
a-new-way-to-cook A New Way to Cook
by Sally Schneider
the-lee-bros-southern-cookbook-stories-and-recipes-for-southerners-and-would-be-southerners The Lee Bros. Southern Cook...
by Ted Lee, Matt Lee
the-south-american-table-the-flavor-and-soul-of-authentic-home-cooking-from-patagonia-to-rio-de-janeiro-with-450-recipes The South American Table: T...
by Maria Baez Kijac
david-burkes-new-american-classics David Burke's New American ...
by David Burke, Judith Choate
big-fat-cookies Big Fat Cookies
by Elinor Klivans
flavor Flavor
by Rocco DiSpirito
the-splendid-tables-how-to-eat-weekends The Splendid Table's How to...
by Sally Swift, Lynne Rosetto Kasper
living-raw-food Living Raw Food
by Sarma Melngailis
Already a member? Sign in here

Sign up to Cookstr!

  • Receive a free, handpicked selection of recipes in your inbox weekly
  • Save, share and comment on your favorite recipes in My Cookstr
  • Get updates on new cookbooks, Cookstr features, and other exclusives we know you'll love
By signing up you accept the
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy
New to Cookstr? Sign up here

Sign in to Cookstr

Keep me logged in
Thanks for commenting!
Would you like to share your comment on Facebook or Twitter?