Soupe au Pistou

soupe au pistou

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of soup. (Well, if it was, it’s not anymore.) I just feel odd ordering it in a restaurant, since I’m paying for a bowl of glorified liquid. And I rarely eat it at home, since when I want to eat, I want something more substantial as a meal. And if I eat it as a first course, then it takes up valuable real estate in my stomach for something more interesting.

(Confused? Imagine how I feel.)

However since moving to France, I’ve seen the value of soup—on occasion. Such as in the dead of winter when it’s so cold that only a bowl of very hot liquid will stoke my fire. Yet in the summer, the idea of hot soup isn’t exactly appealing. But I’ve been trying to eat more vegetables lately, and less meat, and the Soupe au Pistou, vegetable soup from Provence, somehow seems okay.

I don’t vary too much from the classic, which uses only water, not stock, and can have whatever vegetables you want in it. I had these little teensy rice beans from Rancho Gordo that I thought would be nice in this summertime soup. And although the bible that gets the last word on Provençal cuisine, Cuisine Niçoise, says you can use rice instead of noodles, I used whole wheat vermicelli.

basil soupe au pistou

Versions of Soupe au pistou abound elsewhere with everything, including turnips, potatoes, pumpkin, Swiss chard leaves, and herbs, tossed in the pot. I didn’t use any tomatoes since I didn’t want to, but you can add 3/4 pound (300g) of fresh diced tomatoes, or the contents of a similar sized can of chopped tomatoes. And if you do use tomatoes, it’s traditional to pound a small one into the pistou.

rancho gordo rice beans

When I wrote: “I gotta admit that store-bought pesto isn’t bad swirled into Soupe au pistou…”, Jane responded: “Yikes! Store bought pesto!!!!”

I do love homemade pesto, but it’s difficult to come across those enormous leafy bunches of fresh basil at my market in Paris, even in the height of summer, and usually a few spindly branches go for €2*, so it’s a pricey proposition to make pesto. I think the folks in Provence are hoarding all the giant bouquets of fresh basil and if anyone out there has any connections, please tell them to release the leaves and send more northward.


Also my apartment reached 103ºF (40ºC) during the last wave of summertime heat, and I wasn’t exactly anxious to stand over a mortar and pestle and get a workout. So I swirled some of the jarred stuff into the soup, and it wasn’t bad. Then the July temperature suddenly plummeted (as they say, “If you don’t like the weather in Paris, wait fifteen minutes…”) and a few days later, thunderclouds rolled up and temperatures plunged, making us all scramble in the back of our closets for jackets and scarves. So I worked up the energy to lug my mortar and pestle up to my kitchen counter.

pesto garlic

True Provençal folks will stir the pistou—which is similar to pesto, but lighter, made without nuts—into the soup until it’s completely dispersed. But I like to add a dollop to the middle and gently let it spread so I can still taste the pistou, which makes a nice contrast to the vegetables and broth. And I have to tell you, I like a lot of pistou in my soup, and can’t resist adding more as I spoon it up. So if you invite me over for soupe, which is a colloquial French term for ‘dinner’ (which the word ‘supper’ probably derived from), be sure to have a lot on hand. I mean it.

This recipe was inspired by Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France, by Joan Nathan, which I just received a preview copy of. I’d never given much thought to Jewish cooking in France, aside from the copious fallafels on the rue de Rosiers. But this isn’t just a rote compilation of recipes, but includes historical and personal stories behind behind everything from French Pain d’azyme (matzoh) to Foie Haché (chopped liver), and another soup that uses those outer leaves of lettuce that are too tough to eat. I love that idea because I hate throwing anything away.

rancho gordo rice beans cheese grater

In the end, I did happen across a nice bunch of fresh basil at the market last week (see? good things happen, if you just ask nicely…), which people were snapping up as fast as the vendor could wrap them in brown paper and hand them over. And I ended up making a batch of homemade pistou, which really is worth the effort. In fact, this weekend I’m heading back to the Sunday market early (well, not too early…) in hopes of getting more, since I’ve got a big pot of soup on hand.

Soupe au Pistou
Makes about 5 quarts (5l)

Inspired by Quiches, Kugels, and Cousous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France (Knopf) by Joan Nathan

Try to have all the vegetables diced and sliced about the same size, which makes for a nice presentation. Of course, you can vary the vegetables according to what’s available. Feel free to add any other herbs when sautéing the vegetables. If you wish to use canned beans, use 2 cups (300g, drained) or for a real treat, use the same quantity of fresh cooked shelling beans.

Some people will cook the beans in one large pot with 3 quarts (3l) of water, as Ms. Nathan does, then just adds the vegetables once the beans are tender. I like to cook or “sweat” vegetables, which encourages flavor out of them. But it does add a step (and another pot to wash), so you can follow her example if you wish.

For the soup

  • 1 cup (200g) dried beans
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, peeled and diced, or 4 leeks, cleaned and sliced
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 medium carrots (6 ounces, 170g) carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 medium zucchini (1 pound, 450g) diced
  • 1/2 pound (260g) green beans, tips removed and cut crosswise into quarters
  • 6 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced or thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt, and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup (250g) fresh or frozen peas
  • 1 cup (100g) dried pasta; any small variety will do, such as orzo, vermicelli, elbows, or shells

For the pistou

(Makes 1 cup; can be increased proportionally)

1 large clove of garlic, peeled
pinch of salt
2 cups (40g) packed fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil
1 small tomato; peeled, seeded, and diced
1 1/2 ounces (45g) Parmesan cheese, grated

1. Rinse and sort the beans. Soak the beans overnight covered in cold water.

2. The next day, drain the beans and put them in a large saucepan with the bay leaves and enough water to cover the beans with about 1 1/2 quarts (1.5l) of water.

Cook the beans for about an hour, or until tender, adding more water if necessary to keep them immersed. Once cooked, remove the beans from the heat and set aside.

3. In a Dutch oven or large stockpot, heat the olive oil.

4. Add the onions or leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent.

5. Add the thyme, diced carrots, zucchini, green beans, garlic, and salt. Season with pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are completely cooked. Add the cooked beans and their liquid, then the peas and pasta, plus 2 quarts (2l) water. Bring the soup to a boil, and simmer a few minutes until the pasta is cooked.

6. While the soup is cooking, make the pistou.

7. Pound the garlic to a paste in a mortar and pestle (or use a food processor) with a generous pinch of salt.

8. Coarsely chop the basil leaves and pound them into the garlic until the mixture is relatively smooth.

9. Drizzle in the olive oil slowly, while pounding, then pound in the tomato and cheese. Taste, and season with more salt if desired.

To serve: Ladle hot soup into bowls and add a generous spoonful of pistou to the center and swirl gently. Keep extra pistou within reach because you’ll likely want to add more to the soup as you go.

Note: If the soup is too thick, thin it with additional water.

Related Recipes

Celery Root Soup

Fresh Shelling Bean Salad

Soupe au Pistou (101Cookbooks)


Soup au Pistou (Tea & Cookies)



My Mortar and Pestle

Soupe au Pistou (Culinate)

Nice and the Côte d’Azur

Red Pistou Pasta (Serious Eats)

*I should probably note that I don’t mind paying higher prices for things that warrant it: free-range eggs, artisan cheeses, and heirloom dried beans, for example, are always worth the higher cost. But most of the vendors at the market are merely middlemen who buy produce at a larger industrial market, and resell it. So I don’t feel as much compunction to pay the same prices that I would for something grown by a small farm or produced in a way that was sustainable or labor-intensive, which to me, justifies a higher price.

RedVisitor Interview

I was interviewed by the cool kids at RedVisitor about some of my favorite places in Paris. There’s a great wine bar, which features natural wines, as well as a great steak-frites restaurant owned by a former butcher that I’m due for a return trip back to. I also managed to get in a few tips and quips about life in Paris, too. -dl

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  • July 12, 2010 6:21am

    Mmmm soup. I can’t understand how you don’t like it. I find it hard to order at a restaurant too, it just seems a little wasteful. This soup looks great, packed with tones of flavour.

  • adrian
    July 12, 2010 7:34am

    ‘… more substantial as a meal.’ Have you had a good minestrone? I’ve often made the mistake of ordering some and then having a second course. I don’t know whether minestrone counts as a course in Italia, but some are so filling I can’t imagine how anyone could follow up with anything heavier than an espresso.

    As for hot liquids in the heat, as far as I know, they’re better than cold liquids. See Morocco and the hot peppermint tea they drink. The body has to heat up cold liquids coming in, which results in a rise in body temperature. At least that’s the (ayurveda?) theory, but I fare well with this. Eating hot chilis in summer has a similar effect. Well not similar, but they cause you to perspire, in effect cooling the skin.
    But I’m probably preaching to the converted here anyway.

  • July 12, 2010 7:56am

    I love soup! Hot soup, cold soup. I try to make it often. As a child, my mother would make “magic soup” to heal me when I was sick. Aaahhh soup, I love it!

  • Bianca
    July 12, 2010 8:05am

    I agree with you completely!!! I’m not too big on soups either but the last bitter winter here in Paris had me running to the closest Chinese traiteurs for a lousy serving of soup. So glad that you brought up this new recipe on Soup au Pistou. I’m sure that pretty soon I will be needing something delish and healthy once the cooler months arrive.

    Aside from this new blog that I now officially love, I’ve also been getting tips on where to eat from You will most likely find this interesting as well since you mentioned earlier that you often eat out–I do, too. And so far have not been disasterously failed. Hope to hear from you soon!!!

  • Annie
    July 12, 2010 8:12am

    I know what you mean about soup. I often feel that if I am going to chop, saute, and simmer, the result should require a fork to eat. But when I do overcome my resistance to soup-making and have my first spoonful I invariably ask myself why I don’t make more soup!

  • Gaelle
    July 12, 2010 8:26am

    If you were raised on canned Chicken Noodle Soup in the US, I can understand why you are not a big fan of soups! I grew up (and raise my children) eating soups a lot (both hot and warm) : as an appetizer or if a soup from the South of France (Pistou, Bouillabaisse, Soupe de Poissons) as a plat unique.
    How much nuts would you add to your Pistou to make it a Pesto?

  • Noah
    July 12, 2010 8:53am

    I don’t know what happened… It’s been a while since I lived in Paris, but I used to buy bunches of basil there all the time. I can almost smell it now. Mmmm… Basil….

  • Michelle B
    July 12, 2010 8:54am

    David, you are a sweetheart–generous, hardworking, creative, and a great writer. However, your soup recipes, no matter how few, always shocked me in their ordinariness. Now I understand why. Your heart (and stomach) just is not in soup making. This is a brilliant one though. Perhaps there is hope for you.

    Jay Leno also does not get soups. One of his guests went on and on about what a good cook she is, and how she loves cooking for others. When she mentioned her great soups, he winced and said, please give me solid food!

    I loved even the crappy Campbell soups. Graduated onto more fancy brands then to soup making, and now we eat soup for our main meal daily with our garden-fresh veggies and herbs. Economical, fun, nutritious, gorgeous, hydrating during hot spells, and generating wonderful smells, filling up the house, as only simmered dishes and baked breads can. Besides, they are easy on older people’s teeth (or lack thereof).

  • July 12, 2010 9:34am

    Noah: I’m not quite sure why either. Perhaps it’s because Parisians aren’t prone to making batches of pistou like the folks in Provence. Or perhaps because good tomatoes are hard to come by in Paris, unlike in the south and elsewhere.

    Either way, when I saw the large bunches of basil at the market, instead of the usual limp ones with just a couple of branches, and everyone was buying them, I think there is quite a bit of demand for fresh basil here. Curiously, the Monoprix supermarket near me use to have enormous, generous bunches of fresh basil, like you’d find elsewhere. I think they were from greenhouses in Genoa, but I haven’t seen them in the past few years there, unfortunately.

  • Steve OH
    July 12, 2010 9:53am


    This soup looks great…can’t wait to try it out. Stay cool!


  • July 12, 2010 10:01am

    I love soup. To me, it’s the ultimate comfort food, especially one like this soupe au pistou. I’ve been making one from Patricia Wells that I saw on an old Martha show years ago, but this recipe looks a bit less labor intensive and just as delicious. I’ll have to try it the next time our temps here dip below 90F!

  • Scott
    July 12, 2010 10:20am

    Maybe try an Asian market? Out here, the regular supermarket will sell you a precious little sprig of basil in a plastic box for $3, but the same money at the Vietnamese grocery will get you a trash bag full, and fresher too. It’s Thai basil, which isn’t *quite* the same as Genovese, but when you’re mashing it up into a pesto, it’s pretty hard to tell.

  • July 12, 2010 10:22am

    Mmmm, I adore soupe au pistou. I made Julia’s recipe not too long ago and it was unbelievably delicious! I also like to swirl extra into my bowl as I eat, and I’m with you on not mixing it in too much so you get the bright contrast of flavours!

  • Bonnie
    July 12, 2010 11:16am

    In the recipe and photo you simply say beans (white ones according to photo). Are they flageolets, lupini, cannellini, navy?? Does it make a difference?
    Also am soooo glad we here in Colorado finally have something in abundance that you have difficulty in finding in Paris—bunches of basil!!

  • July 12, 2010 11:20am

    Bonnie: You can use any kind of beans in this soup. I had these lovely little beans from Rancho Gordo that worked perfectly, but any that you like, including those you mentioned, are fine to use.

    Scott: Yes, I know that basil from the Asian markets, which is good, although has a more pronounced anise-like flavor.

    But I still like those giant leafy bouquets! ; )

  • July 12, 2010 11:32am

    Mmm…seems a lot of people are talking about this soupe. It always make me think of summer, yet I didn’t make mine in summer. I love the freshness of this soup. The lack of meatstock makes for such a delicate soup. I have a good amount of fresh basil on my patio now, so perhaps another batch of this is ready to go.

  • July 12, 2010 11:48am

    Soup, ugh. Just can’t do it. Unless perhaps you have a recipe for some sort of Chocolate Soup up your sleeve somewhere . . . . ?

  • July 12, 2010 12:04pm

    My husband wasn’t a soup man, either, though I think I’ve converted him (& no, I don’t think he’s being diplomatic as he has no problem saying he doesn’t like various dishes). I make hearty soups all the time for our winter meal main course (semi-stew would be a better term).

    I can’t imagine making soup with water instead of broth, though, except of course with a fruit soup or something really, really light.

    Broth is the main reason I make soup – in addition to the delicious taste and texture of well-made broth, I’m after the fantastic nutrients in broth, which contains easily-absorbed minerals that are important for my own bones (better than a mineral supplement in so many ways!) as well as the dissolved gelatin, collagen, and other compounds that are good for my family’s gut and joint health.

    Of course, homemade bone broth is thrifty, too, and making broth one of the easiest cooking tasks possible (even the village idiot can manage to put up some broth in the freezer). On the rare occasions a family member becomes ill, a cup of hot broth from the freezer stash is a must when regular food is too much to handle.

  • Susan
    July 12, 2010 12:08pm

    It has actually been a good year for obtaining fresh basil from a couple of the markets I frequent in the South Bay (SF). They have been selling the basil with the root intact. The root is wrapped in ventilated plastic wrap and set in containers layered with damp florest sponge to keep the root moist. What a difference from the limp and lazy stuff that had previously been available and the price hasn’t been too much more. It keeps well for several days at home set in a jar with a little water. It still takes several of the bunches to make a batch of pesto, though and that’s a little cost prohibitive. But, now it’s summer and the farmers mkt has plenty at a better price, but most still sell it cut, so you have to move fast on the pesto making!

  • July 12, 2010 12:14pm

    @Scott I don’t agree. The difference is not in the way it looks, it is in the way it tastes, and you can definitely tell in pesto, of all places. It does not make much difference if you cook the basil, but when it is raw, it is like two different herbs.

    Anyway the high price for basil is a real woe for a pesto addict like me. When I think that at the market in Italy they’ll usually throw a big whole plant or two for free with your weekly shopping… If you have a small balcony it is quite easy to grow some, but you do need hot weather for it to thrive.

    David: it is obvious that you have no weight problems. Soups are my best friends when trying to control hunger. Moreover I genuinely do appreciate them, also because Italian ones can be really complex in flavour and texture, and not at all calorie free (think ribollita, pappa al pomodoro, pasta e fagioli.. ).

  • Stefanie
    July 12, 2010 12:32pm

    At the Bastille market on Sunday, the fruit and vegetable vendor that sells produce from its farm (in between Jacky Lorenzo and the fromagerie that specializes in brie) has lovely bunches of basil. If you haven’t already come across them, I highly recommend a stop by their stand (the camparis tomatoes are heavenly as well this time of year).

  • July 12, 2010 12:39pm

    Stefanie: I buy almost all my produce from them, as there’s so few other folks selling home-grown produce at the market. Their stuff is really nice, and yes, the Campari tomatoes are very good. (I wrote about them a while back showing off the bounty from a market visit.)

    Their basil is nice as well. Although if you can, I recommend going on Thursday, when it’s not too crowded. As obvious by the masses, others are just as hungry for lovely produce as we are!

  • Jennifer
    July 12, 2010 12:53pm

    For basil lovers, I’d strongly recommend trying your hand at growing your own basil. Mine grows like crazy with very little care other than watering and a substantial amount of sun. Each year I buy a $4 basil plant, put in a pot with some potting soil, and have copious amounts of basil all spring, summer and fall (it usually doesn’t survive the cold). Much more cost-effective than spending $4 at the grocery store everytime I want basil. Of course, I live in Texas where it is warm to sizzling 9 months out of the year.

  • Charlene
    July 12, 2010 1:07pm

    Why, oh why aren’t you growing your own basil??? All you need is a pot of soil and some sunshine and a place for your pot. I know you already know this. Sorry. But WHY aren’t you growing your own basil? The Soupe au Pistou sounds delicious and I just happen to have fresh zucchini and green beans growing. Thanks. And get busy growing your own basil! :-)

  • July 12, 2010 1:19pm

    OMG this sounds absolutely divine!!!! Will certainly try this recipe!

  • July 12, 2010 2:40pm

    When I was in Provence with my best friend a couple of years ago, we came back to the hotel from a long tour of the Gorge du Verdon and were really cold from being out walking and taking pictures. This was in September and with the approaching evening, the temperatures already began to get cold. The lady in the hotel restaurant served us this soupe au pistou which was so good and comforting and warm, I still remember the feeling today (well, ok, with 37 degrees Celsius outside…). Since then, I’ve often made this soup myself and the funny thing is that it never tastes the same, even if you use exactly the same ingredients. Thanks for posting this recipe, David, I’ll definitely try your version, once it’s getting colder outside. And if you haven’t been there yet, you should go and see the Gorge du Verdon, it’s really nice out there. :)

  • July 12, 2010 2:55pm

    My Paris window box has two basil plants but despite being in the afternoon sun, the conditions are far from perfect. I’m hoping for some pesto before the summer ends. Guess that’s why Parisians are into pesto.

  • July 12, 2010 3:20pm

    I have to agree with Anne; I have a herb pot on my roof, and mint and thyme are in there right now. But when the full summer sun hits, since there’s no shade, it’s hard to keep those herbs (and me!) from burning to a crisp.

    I did try buying a plant a few years ago to give it a go in my kitchen, but it didn’t make it in there either : (

  • j gold
    July 12, 2010 3:31pm

    Nice recipe. I’ve made pistou dozens of times, extrapolating from Richard Olney’s formula, but have never thought of sweating the vegetables. I can’t wait to try your method. But . . . no pumpkin? It is as compulsory as the basil!

  • July 12, 2010 3:49pm

    I think it’s out of professional habit that I sweat vegetables. I mentioned that pumpkin can be added to the soupe, and indeed in Jacques Médecin’s book (which usually gets the last word in Provence) he calls for zucchini, but does offer pumpkin as a winter substitute.

    I haven’t seen any pumpkins in the local markets for months. Normally they disappear around April and don’t reappear until late fall.

  • I love soup and think that sounds delicious. For some reason I am mesmerized by the picture of those white beans!


  • Tags
    July 12, 2010 4:47pm

    Does this mean your next ice cream book will have a recipe for ice cream soup?

  • Colby
    July 12, 2010 5:23pm

    The soup looks delicious. I am the opposite of you. I’d prefer soup over almost anything…except dessert. I’ll try this one right away.

    Sort of related to soup…my daughter lives in Paris and has a very small kitchen so she can’t do much cooking. She wanted to try one of my recipes that uses chicken broth but wasn’t sure of a good brand to buy there. Do you have any suggestions? I know making her own would be best, but that isn’t going to happen. Thanks.

    I read your blog and tweets everyday. I enjoy your sense of humor – especially about all things Parisian. My daughter has many similar experiences so reading you not only makes me laugh, but also makes me feel closer to her.

  • July 12, 2010 6:08pm

    I generally do not like soup either, but when I find one that I really like, it stays a part of my life forever. This soup actually sounds like something I would really enjoy. Can’t wait to try it!

  • July 12, 2010 6:38pm

    David, your reasons for not liking soup appear quite sensible and logical (and hilarious!), just reading the paragraph. But then I start thinking about my favorite soups–I can see them, taste them, smell them–and your reasons fall flat. Your Soupe au Pistou looks marvelous, though I would definitely cut back on the garlic. I love the subtle, fresh flavors of the vegetables and don’t want them overpowered by the aromatics.

  • July 12, 2010 6:48pm

    I always get sideways looks from my wife when I mention that I enjoy a good bowl of soup, probably because I have a habit of crumbling so many crackers into the bowl that it winds up with the consistency of oatmeal. The crackers help make it more of a substantial meal, though.

  • JA
    July 12, 2010 7:45pm

    I’ve never been a big soup fan. I finally realized that chunks-of-stuff-in-broth didn’t appeal to me, but pureed soups are great, as are thicker chowders and stews. For soups that are mostly vegetable, I treat them as sides with a salad or sandwich rather than as a main course, and I enjoy them a great deal. Two standbys for me in the winter are Cooking Light’s Creamy Tomato-Balsamic and my own recipe for Carrot-Ginger.

  • Shari
    July 12, 2010 7:59pm

    David, David, the reason everyone loves soup is so you can eat a lot of good bread with it.

  • Charlene
    July 12, 2010 9:15pm

    I made this for supper with zucchini and green beans picked fresh today. Also a few pods of okra. Oh man, was this good! After I harassed you about not growing your own basil, I barely came up with 2 cups packed from my 6 wee plants. Also, this was the first time using my large mortar and pestle, made of porcelain, and it wore me out. I don’t think it’s rough enough. Will use the food processor next time. I’m thrilled for another great way to use up the zucchini and green beans. Thanks a million, David!

    Anyone else needing new ways to use up the green beans, check out Elise’s Mexican Green Bean Salad at Simply Recipes.

  • christina
    July 12, 2010 11:12pm

    I have a relatively important question [for me] that has absolutely nothing to do with this article. As gooseberries are almost impossible to find in my area of the USA, is it possible to substitute Kiwis, which are really Chinese gooseberries, in a recipe… like a fool? I told you it was only relatively important. If they can be, how does one prepare them? Due to the dearth of supplies in the coastal Virginia area, I have been able to make this great dessert only several times. Help !! I realize that I could substitute other fruits but I want to make a gooseberry fool. Thank you….Christina B…….. and thank you for allowing me to live in Paris vicariously…

  • July 12, 2010 11:48pm

    I know what you mean with your soup struggle! I’m a wintertime soup person for sure, but I’m never really attracted to cold summer soups. This one looks fresh and summery with a perfect basil punch. I could see myself enjoying this with small batch, cast-iron corn bread. Yum!

  • July 13, 2010 12:17am

    I can understand why you’d pass soup over, what with all the ingenious ice creams that appear in your kitchen! Australia is currently mired in Winter, though, so this looks like just the ticket :)

  • shelleyorama
    July 13, 2010 1:18am

    I dunno, Thai basil . . . that’s not so crazy! I may add some lemongrass as well — not very Nice of me, I know. The flageolets won’t know what hit ’em!

  • July 13, 2010 1:21am

    It is so tricky getting the flavor right in soups which aren’t meat based. As a veg, I so appreciate this recipe.

  • Jill Appenzeller
    July 13, 2010 1:33am

    Love thinking of soup as taking up real estate – and paying full price for a bowl of glorified water. I’m still smiling. Thanks for the laugh, and the justification for ordering the foie gras.

    July 13, 2010 2:16am

    Howdy David,

    Just recently came across your site and your voice/humour IS like David Sedaris’, just like Tea said.

    Anyway, I would like to add to the chorus of voices who suggest you grow your own basil. It grows like a weed, I hear. I only don’t because I don’t have enough uses for all the basil that would come up and real estate in my balcony garden is at a premium…



  • July 13, 2010 2:19am

    Vicki B: You might want to try making vegetable stock for your homemade soups. When I worked at Chez Panisse, they would sometimes put some dried nori (seaweed) into the stock to build the flavors.

    christina: They aren’t the same thing, I’m afraid. Gooseberries that are traditionally used for fools (no jokes, please…) are different than kiwi fruit. I would be wary of using uncooked kiwi fruit with whipped cream as they are one of the tropical fruits that contains an enzyme that breaks down proteins and may do the same to whipped cream. If you do want to try it, you may want to cook the kiwi fruits first, perhaps.

    Real gooseberries are hard to find in the states; we used to find them in California on occasion, so you might want to visit a farmer’s market to scout some out.

    Colby: You can’t get canned chicken stock in France, like they sell in America. They tend to use bouillon cubes.

    Some crafty expats cheat and bring over Better Than Bouillon ; )

    Jenn: Last time I was at the Rancho Gordo stand in San Francisco, those beans were the first thing I grabbed to pack away in my suitcase. They caught my eye, too. I bought another bean variety called ‘Tepary’ that are like tiny lentils.

  • Geraldine Toltschin
    July 13, 2010 4:32am

    David, I don´t have T.V., Live in Spain with none of those dishes that the American community seem to have, (my dishes (my dishes are kept in a closet)..BUT….I´m certain that if Leno-Letterman ever go off the tele you can replace both of them…you are just too funn.y. You could replace the SOUP NAZI image on the old Seinfeld shows.

    What can I say, I owned a SOUP restaruant in Buenos Aires. We had 31 soups on the menu, a new one each day. Pistou is not one of my favorites by the way. I prefer a minestron.

    Keep eating those veggies lad they are so good for you. It isn´t easy being green.

  • stephanie
    July 13, 2010 5:51am

    Seriously you need to shop somewhere else if you cannot find basil in summer. It is the perfect summer seasoning and best of all….good for you and not fattening. I cannot imagine going more than a day or two without it… salads, on pasta, on tartines, in soups. My kids crave pesto and ask for it on/in everything. I have tried growing it, but do not have a green thumb so I buy it at the marché; 1€ for a giant bunch and I always buy a few at at a time. I do not freeze much (only stock and certain sauces), but homemade pesto freezes very well. Oh and if you blanch the basil before blending it, it will stay bright green in the fridge for a week.

    Heading over to rue des Rosiers now for falafel. Maybe I’ll see you there :)

  • July 13, 2010 9:57am

    I wasn’t too interested at first sight – soup in the summer?? But by halfway through I was interested enough to read to the end – and mark this for later use. Thanks!

  • July 13, 2010 11:24am

    What a lovely summer recipe. Not to rub it in, but I have several large flourishing basil plants in my backyard, which leads to endless batches of pesto frozen for the winter. This pistou will be next on my list.

  • July 13, 2010 11:53am

    Mmm…I love this kind of soup recipe, that can be adapted to what I have in the garden and the cupboard at the moment. Thanks for sharing!

  • July 13, 2010 12:07pm

    Haha, I feel exactly the same way you do about soup, but have never put it into words. This soup however looks very hearty, almost like a stew.

  • Natalie Yasmin
    July 13, 2010 12:17pm

    As a fairly recent DL blog-reading convert and student with an, at times, absurdly busy schedule, taking time to sit and read your latest post is the highlight of a frantic day (and usually done during my lunch hour while I enjoy a modest meal betwen classes). Today, lo and behold, despite the summer heat (thank you, air conditioned office), I am enjoying a Curried Sweet Pea soup! And it’s lovely. Though, after reading, I wonder if I bring the recipe to the cafe on campus if they will be kind enough to make some this week…. Maybe I can bribe them with Dulce de Leche brownies? :)

    Just a note: I am a bit disappointed to discover your disdain for one of my favorite meals! Here I was, naively hoping that you would release a book of Splendiferous Soup recipes this winter. Maybe there is still time for you to convert to a Soup Appreciater, if not a Soup Lover?

  • July 13, 2010 3:22pm

    I love soup and pesto as well. I use fresh spinach in place of the basil. It is a very nice substitution if I do say so myself!!! Let me know if you try it and how you like it.

  • Ed
    July 13, 2010 4:46pm

    I live in the San Francisco/Bay area. For those who make soups often, instead of using bouillon cubes, you can get great MSG-free soup base paste at Smart and Final stores and sometimes at Costco. They are limited to Chicken, Beef and Clams. Click on link to see what jars of these look like:

    Trader Joe’s carry great pots of basel plants for making pesto and cheap, too! You can use it all at one time or you can save the rest to continue growing on your kitchen window!

  • Anna G.
    July 13, 2010 5:49pm

    Mmmhh. Soup sounds good right about now! When my sister went to study at Sorbonne, her friends took her to this street vendor who sold great falafel sandwiches. She said they took this giant, thick, hot hunk of pita bread and stuffed the bottom of it with freshly fried falafel and added something like hummus on top of that while layering lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and a special sauce over all that good stuff! After that day, Nina went back there like three times by herself.

  • July 14, 2010 9:40am

    I love a great soup and yours looks wonderful! The pesto on the top is just nirvana. Thank you for sharing!

  • July 14, 2010 12:12pm

    Soupe Au pistou is emblematic of so much I admire in french cooking. Nice recipe and accompanying text as well. Great to hear you have similar opinions of the markets as the silent majority.

  • July 15, 2010 2:34pm

    At last someone else who isn’t a soup devotee!

    My dear hubby would eat soup every day, no problems. I don’t actually dislike soup, but it’s not what I choose to eat very often, once every few weeks is ok by me! When I do this soup of Nigella’s ( is the kind of thing I go for which is more stock with bits in it than soup.

    Although, Orangette’s Molly has a butternut, pear and vanilla soup in her book that I though sounded good, and will make it in the Autumn.

  • July 15, 2010 7:40pm

    I only recently became a lover of soup. I typically reserve my love for winter, as it is hot here in Texas in the summertime, and who wants soup when it’s 100 degrees? But this? I could enjoy this for a lunch just about any time. And I happen to have an overgrown pot full of bushy green basil (don’t be jealous) that needs to be used.
    Happen to know if a pistou can be made without the cheese?

  • July 16, 2010 2:16am

    Alta: You could possibly make it without the cheese, although it does act as a somewhat binding agent. So you might want to add some high-oil nuts (walnuts or pine nuts) or additional garlic, to give it a paste-like smoothness.

    btw: Some people say to eat this soup at room temperature. I’ve not done that, but I’ve been told that’s also traditional.

  • ana
    July 16, 2010 3:15am

    I am a soup lover, so much so that I’ve dreamt of opening a soup-focused restaurant in a very cold city in France (with warm tartines in winter, salads in the summer). But that has nothing to do with what I wanted to say here.
    I wanted to write about basil: a friend of a friend of mine noticed that since basil seemed somewhat scarce in France most of the year, those who actually bought basil plants in the summer time didn’t dare use it. He began a yearly party, where toward the end of summer he asks all those who still have basil at home (there are invariably many, many households who do because they were saving it for some great occasion that never came) to bring it to his house and have a big pesto party.
    I just thought it was such a sweet idea that I wanted to share.

  • ron shapley
    July 16, 2010 5:17pm

    So Dave… I just watched Julia prepare a zuchinni soup with Pistou….in which she added blanched bacon and two egg yolks…and grated cheese… Looked fabulous and how timely since one of your latest posts !!!

  • Lynn D
    July 17, 2010 1:12pm

    Recently at a dinner party we all got to talking about how we all owned Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking but had hardly every cooked anything from it. In my case the only thing I have ever made from it is pistou and I have made it repeatedly every summer for nearly 40 years. Her original recipe called for dried basil if necessary! The beans I use are lentils and I always add corn cut from the cob.

  • Helen in CA
    July 19, 2010 5:11pm

    Fog? SF summer fog? Remember?
    Last night’s low was 49degreesF.

    In otherwords, yes soup can be a Good Thing in the summer evenings. At least here.

  • Peter
    July 20, 2010 6:13pm

    Although I’ve looked high and low on the Ranch Gordo website, I simply cannot find the “rice beans” that you describe. They seem smaller and more appealing than the white tepary beans. Can you let us know exactly what you used?

  • July 20, 2010 6:27pm

    Hi Peter: I bought them when I was in San Francisco, at their stand at the Ferry Plaza farmer’s market. You can inquire through their website about them, but for soupe au pistou, you can use any kind of bean that you like. Rancho Gordo does have some exceptional beans, however, and perhaps you can try another if they’re out of the Rice Beans. Or use some that are locally available.

  • July 22, 2010 2:34pm

    What I love about this soup is, I always have these ingredients in my garden!

  • July 22, 2010 7:00pm

    If I’m going to have something liquid at a meal, make it a cocktail or wine. Though, I must admit I love your leek and potato soup (with a nice Croques-Monsieur on the side) or thick split-pea soup with caraway and ham hocks (ditto). I like food you need to chew.

  • Justine
    July 23, 2010 6:41pm

    I’m French and love soupe au pistou, and often make it myself, inspired by my mum’s recipe. But I’ve never seen tomato in the pistou (or the pesto, by the way). Is it a traditional thing? Does Jacques Medecin too put some tomato in his pistou?

  • July 23, 2010 7:36pm

    Hi Justine: I had not seen tomato in pistou until recently, but have seen it on French websites for soupe au pistou and in a recipe on the Aix-en-Provence website.

    Jacques Médecin does not call for it in his recipe, unlike the sources above.

  • Véronique
    July 25, 2010 7:21am

    Regarding pumpkin in Soupe au Pistou: My mother (who is from just North of Provence)does this soup only during the summer so she never uses any pumpkin, for the obvious seasonal reason which you mentioned, BUT, as well as calling courge some pumpkins, we call “courge” a courgette (zucchini) that grew too much before being discovered well hidden under the large leaves of its plant. Since these “courges” are bland, they are only used in addition to other vegetables, after their many seeds are well removed. So there might be some dices of courge in a soupe of Pistou without them being pumpkin…

  • Justine
    July 26, 2010 8:01pm

    thank you for the info.
    I checked in the “Cuisinière provençale“, in my opinion the ultimate book regarding south of France’s cooking, and they do add some tomato in the soup, but not in the pesto.

    Anyway, with tomato it sounds good too!

  • Justine
    July 26, 2010 8:01pm

    thank you for the info.
    I checked in the “Cuisinière provençale”, in my opinion the ultimate book regarding south of France’s cooking, and they do add some tomatoe in the soup, but not in the pesto.
    Anyway, with tomatoe it sounds good too!

  • shelleyorama
    July 31, 2010 3:07am

    I made this soup sans tinkering, and learned.

    I gave up on zucchini as a teenager, because however it was that I went about sautéeing it, it would turn out slimy and bitter (like, ew). Perhaps too high a heat. Left to my own devices, I would have left it out of the soup, but after learning that reader tinkering exasperates . . . I mean puzzles you, I was shamed into following the recipe.

    Here’s the learning part. The zucchini added a deep fruity sweetness that I never could have foreseen based on the results of my teenaged cooking attempts. Huh. Teenagers may not know everything after all.

    So thank you for zucchini. It’s now in regular rotation. In future, I will postpone tinkering, and when I make this soup again, I may tinker, but I won’t tell you about it. Deal?

    p.s., Interesting what Véronique says about “courge,” so I googled “zucche” but got pictures of jack o’ lanterns. close but no cigar.

  • August 18, 2010 2:31am

    I made this soup and it was delicious. Liked by men (who usually don’t enjoy soup very much in our house, too) young and younger. I blogged about it. Thanks for the recipe. Now that I saw that I can substitute the pumpkin for the zucchini in winter, it could become a year round soup and I like that. All the best!

  • September 3, 2010 1:46am

    I love this soup, what a wonderful balance of nutrient dense ingredients that will be a family and friend pleaser for years to come.

    We have been trying to incorporate more beans and fiber into our diet and this will definitely be a staple in our home. Thanks!

  • Deep Fat Fryer
    December 6, 2010 1:17am

    The best soup I ever had was at a place called Thor in the Lower East Side of Manhattan at the hotel on Rivington. Three soups came in three shot glasses and I was blown away!