Soupe au pistou

soupe au pistou recipe
One of the great French dishes that I make every summer, when I gather fresh vegetables and basil at my market, is Soupe au pistou. Originally from Provence, the soup is meant to use the lovely vegetables of the season, and is crowned with a spoonful of pistou in the middle of each bowl, which guests are encouraged to swirl in themselves.

soupe au pistou - tomatoes

Being French, of course, there is some controversy about the right way to make this soup. I don’t vary too much from the classic, which is said to use only water, not stock, and you can add whatever vegetables are best where you are. I have seen versions that use stock, or the broth may be flavored with a hunk of salt pork. But I prefer it as simple as possible, to let the vegetables shine through.

soupe au pistou beans

Feel free to vary the vegetables from what I’ve given: turnips, potatoes, pumpkin, and Swiss chard leaves, all work well. Some put tomatoes into the soup, so you can add 3/4 pound (300g) of fresh diced, de-seeded tomatoes, or the contents of a similar sized can of chopped tomatoes. And if you do use tomatoes be sure to save one because – yes, it’s controversial – but I like to pound a small one into the pistou which helps it disperse nicely into the soup. (Pistou is related to pesto, but has no nuts.)

Pesto recipe
If you can get fresh shelling beans, those are a real treat. I took the liberty of using good-quality dried white beans for this pot of soup. But most of all, be sure to have lots of fresh basil. To me, it’s the star of the show at the market in the summer, and in the soup.

Soupe au pistou
Makes about 5 quarts (5l) of soup

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 sauteing the vegetables. If you wish to use canned beans, use 2 cups (300g, drained) or for a real treat, use 2 cups of fresh cooked shelling beans.

There are a variety of ways to make this soup. Some people will cook the beans in one large pot with 3 quarts (3l) of water, then just add the vegetables once the beans are tender. I like to cook or “sweat” vegetables, in a saute pan first, which encourages extra flavor out of them.

For the soup

  • 1 cup (200g) dried beans
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, peeled and diced, or 3 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
  • 8 ounces (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) gently 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.

Notes: If the soup is too thick, thin it with additional water. If not planning on serving all the soup right away, keep the cooked pasta separate and add only what’s needed for each serving. If left in the soup for a long period, it will continue to swell up and become overly soft.

Related Recipes and Links

Celery Root Soup

Fresh Shelling Bean Salad

Soupe au Pistou (101Cookbooks)

Pesto

Rancho Gordo Beans

Soup au Pistou (Tea & Cookies)

Panisses

Aïoli

My Mortar and Pestle

Nice and the Côte d’Azur

Red Pistou Pasta (Serious Eats)

 

 


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100 comments

  • 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 http://www.mybestaddressbook.com/en/addresses/search.html. 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

    David,

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

    Steve

  • 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

    David,
    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.
    http://www.lemontart.ca/2010/04/soupe-au-pistou-dreaming-of-summer.html

  • 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!

    Jenn

  • 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

    Can’t wait to try it!

  • July 12, 2010 6:38pm

    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 :)

  • 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.

  • ANNAC
    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…

    Sincerely,

    Banane

  • 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.

    • tunie
      August 27, 2016 7:12am

      I use the soak water from dried shitake mushrooms as a place to start when building a vegetable broth. So much flavor it’s delicious on its own as a consomme!

  • 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

    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!

  • 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? :)

  • 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: http://www.superiortouch.com/retail/products/better-than-bouillon

    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 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.

  • July 22, 2010 2:34pm

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

  • 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…

  • 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!

  • magdau
    August 26, 2016 3:50pm

    Bonjour la recette de la soupe au pistou est très controversée. Ici en Provence elle ne se mange qu’au mois d’août et ne contient que des légumes de saison, à savoir courgettes, haricots verts, haricots plats, cocos blancs, cocos rouges et tomates. Quand on met des carottes ou des poireaux ou du céleri… on retombe sur du minestrone. On ajoute des coquillettes à la fin, et basta!
    Le pistou lui même est composé de basilic, ail, gros sel, huile d’olive (et pourquoi pas une tomate?).
    Et par dessus tout ça plein de parmesan râpé!
    Miam (encore meilleur réchauffé)

    • August 26, 2016 4:09pm
      David Lebovitz

      Oui, il y a beaucoup de variations de cette soupe. Mirelle Johnston (qui a écrit “Cuisines du Soleil” – de Provence et Nice) fait cette soupe avec du chou, des carrottes, des navets et des pommes de terres. Pour moi, l’ingredient le plus important est le pistou !

  • Susan Sims
    August 26, 2016 4:56pm

    I’ve made Richard Olney’s version of this for a long time. He doesn’t require sautéing the alliums and includes potatoes and squash which helps thicken up a water based stock for more mouth feel, which I appreciate as a meat eater. I’ve found that it’s best to withhold adding salt until the end to keep the vegetables from breaking up.

  • nikki
    August 26, 2016 5:33pm

    I make soup every week, sometimes twice. My husband is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s and all he can eat is pureed foods so soup is perfect.
    I always look for soup that contains lots of veggies and beans so this will go into the play list for my soup making.
    Thank you for another great recipe

  • Anne H
    August 26, 2016 5:34pm

    Thank you for the clearest instructions possible. I followed them to the letter and couldn’t be happier with the soup. I love your blog!

  • August 26, 2016 5:35pm

    I grew up on Campbell soup, and I LOVE soup, provided it doesn’t come from a can. After 17 years of living on the steamy coast of western Mexico, we have relocated to the Sierra Madre mountains at 4600′ elevation. It is a rare day that is too hot for soup. Now if I can just find some albahaca — basil — I will put pistou on the table.
    ~ Kathleen

  • August 26, 2016 6:44pm

    I’m a soup kind of gal…all winter long, or really anytime, although homemade is a must. This is right up my alley…nice recipe and pics! Bookmarking this one for sure.

  • BarbieQ
    August 26, 2016 6:51pm

    We have made similar soups in the past but this sounds great – and we still have plenty of fresh basil and thyme in our potted garden. Only challenge is 5-qt is a lot of soup (there is just 2 in the household and even with friends this could take some time to use up) and I would like to make a full batch. With the exclusion of the pasta (which would be added when closer to serving), I’m thinking this will freeze well – but would like your feedback. Thanks!

  • Susie
    August 26, 2016 6:53pm

    I LOVE this soup and make it every summer. Here in the US have to substitute the beans, but with Rancho Gordo beans, that is not a problem. When in France, I love to go to the market, get the ingredients and voila..shortly, there is the soup.

    • Susie
      August 26, 2016 6:54pm

      PS. That green bowl with the tomatoes in it is to die for.

  • Philip
    August 26, 2016 9:09pm

    Nice recipe, David! I’m not really a fan of soup in general, but I do like making my Piedmontese grandmother’s version of minestrone, which is almost identical to this but without the pistou. It’s really a thrifty recipe, using what’s available at the best time of year, and she never used stock, either. Good memories!

  • Jim
    August 26, 2016 9:15pm

    David,

    With much admiration, I’d like to make the case that a lawn is seeded and a tomato is deseeded.

  • elena
    August 26, 2016 9:22pm

    It’s a great recipe,thank you very much!

  • August 26, 2016 9:38pm

    We eat soup every Tuesday in winter. I love it. Pistou is definitely a favorite, while the local tomatoes are still available (November/December around here).

  • Charlotte K
    August 27, 2016 12:52am

    Made a delightful & simple minestrone last weekend from a 1960s Craig Claiborne recipe and have been enjoying all week in various forms.

    This looks like the perfect follow up for this time of year. Thanks for making my choices easy!

  • Kathy Urbano
    August 27, 2016 2:35am

    This is a fine recipe and very similar to a pistol recipe my French Grandmother taught me when I was 12. I make this several times a year with good crusty bread. Being prominently Italian in my heritage, I also make ribolita as well as cannellini bean soup which is actually the way we make minestrone. I use fresh peas in my pistou soup and was so happy to see peas here! Yes many variations of this soup but I especially love how you make your pistou as we always use a fresh tomato from the garden when we can. Awesome recipe!

  • Farmer Susan
    August 27, 2016 3:13am

    Thank you, Pistou is my favorite at Sly’s and now I can make it at home.

  • Sel
    August 27, 2016 3:26am

    Hi there, do you have a recipe for
    a white minestrone soup? No red
    color just white….thank you

    • Kathy Urbano
      August 29, 2016 7:21am

      Hi Sel;
      I have a white minestrone soup my family has been making ever since I can remember! It consists of cannellini beans; white onion; celery; parma ham; white shredded cabbage; chopped escarole; garlic; parsley; rosemary; chicken or vegetable stock; hot cracked red pepper flakes and we use about 8 ounces tagliatelle broken into 3 inch lengths. We always serve this with fresh parmesan cheese grated on top. It is really good. Hope this helps.

  • Nima
    August 27, 2016 5:16am

    Just one word…Perfect.
    Thank you.

  • Cynthia
    August 27, 2016 7:26am

    Simply the most gorgeous food blog post I’ve ever seen and read. Soupe au pistou will be be eaten in this household this week, and I will see these photos in my mind forevermore.

  • August 27, 2016 2:17pm

    This is one of those French recipes that I’ve never made, so thanks for the inspiration. It’s market day in my neighborhood tomorrow, so will be buying up as much basil as I can. :)

  • August 27, 2016 2:54pm

    This looks amazing and like something I will have to try. Wonderful way to use the bounty of a garden.

  • August 27, 2016 3:18pm

    I think your soup recipes are fantastic and spent last winter making your split pea soup once a week; it was the first split pea soup – after many attempts – that really floated my boat. Delicious! So I am making this one today. Would love to have a “David” soup for summer.

  • Cheryl in Calgary
    August 28, 2016 3:06am

    Thanks so much for an outstanding recipe David! I made it with all of our garden veggies which my dear husband has slaved over this entire summer. We feasted and the leftovers will be epic. I made it exactly as you instructed and the results were superb.

  • August 28, 2016 4:31pm

    What a gorgeous soup. Love lots of veggies in my soup.

  • Vicki in Sonoma County
    August 28, 2016 5:16pm

    This is sensational. Made it today. Recipe is perfect. I think the technique used by David makes a huge difference (sweating all the veggies together before adding to liquids)

  • coffey_girl
    August 29, 2016 12:31pm

    This recipe was a total success! And wow – so flavour-some – making enough for a small army!

    I followed the recipe to the letter, including soaking the beans overnight, and cooking the pasta separately as not to have overly absorbed noodles.

    I look forward to making this again! Thanks David! x

  • Pauline Hage
    August 30, 2016 6:18pm

    What a wonderful lovely soup this is. You feel the goodness go straight to your heart! Thank you very much

  • August 30, 2016 7:39pm

    missed out on that one and haven’t read comments yet. Hope I’m not repeating too much that has been said already.
    For about a year or longer I find it increasingly difficult to buy basilic. I used to get the ones with the roots attached and they lasted for quite a bit (days). Now, if I’m lucky, I find an organic plant in a pot, I also NEVER managed to grow it and try I did. In every country I ever lived I planted it, had it in pots, loved them like children and they always – luckily contrary to children – died on me. They shrivelled, turned brown, fouled away, but never grew happily…. I’m insanely jealous of all those who manage to get this delicious stuff growing.
    I put the rest of a jar-pesto (not pistou) over my grilled vegetables I just wrote about on your last post yesterday, and I shall hasten to cook up a storm with your veggie soup here… I must get my hands on some really good looking beans first.

  • Helen Cottreau
    September 3, 2016 2:13am

    This version of the classic dish is perfection.

  • Deirdre
    September 3, 2016 6:37am

    Soupe au pistou was my favorite recipe from Julia Child back in the 70’s. I can smell the kitchen and see the steamy faces of my two little boys as they slurped it up!
    A solution for basil: For those of you who are lucky enough to own a car, lend me your ear: I grow a tomato plant and basil plant in the back trunk of my car (I have a Toyota Prius). The plants are deliriously happy soaking up all that summer heat (think how hot your car gets in the summer)! I pull them out for watering (and keep them in a tray in the car). The tomato eventually grows too tall and I transplant them into my garden, but I am certain you could continue to grow the basil in the car if you wished.

  • serafinadellarosa
    September 3, 2016 9:45am

    Made this today and it is killer delicious!! Yes, I had to make another batch of pistou! If you don’t have a big, heavy mortar and pestle go get one! The basil is astoundingly delicious made with an M and P. Totally different than when it is made with a FP.