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French Vegetable Soup: Soupe au Pistou

September 13, 2013
by Shannon Hepburn

This soup from Southern France fulfills those late summer/early fall cravings.  You still want to taste your garden but you want something a little warming.  This is not a long cooking soup, so the flavors remain fresh and bright.  Swirling a dollop of pistou (similar to pesto minus the nuts) into each bowl before serving brightens the flavor even more.  There are so many variations to be found with this Provencal soup – no one recipe is the “right” one.  So use what you like and use what you have on hand.  A few options include adding: fresh or frozen peas, yellow squash, chopped greens, shredded cabbage, fresh herbs, etc…  The pistou is traditionally made with fresh basil, but I had an abundance of parsley so that’s what I used.  I’ve also seen recipes that include a tablespoon or two of tomato paste in the pistou and also play with the amounts of garlic and cheese.  Whatever suits your fancy!  It’s all good.

Serves: about 10 cups
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or sunflower oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 small leek (white and tender green parts) cleaned & chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled & chopped
  • 1 large celery stalk, chopped
  • 2 medium ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded & chopped (sometimes I don't bother peeling)
  • 1 small potato, peeled & chopped
  • 8 cups water (or veg stock or chicken stock)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 to 2 cups cooked dried beans (traditionally small white beans are used - but use what you like!)
  • small handful of thin spaghetti, broken up, or any small pasta shape - shells, macaroni, orzo, etc...
  • 1 small zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced
  • 1 cup of green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 cups fresh parsley
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • ¼ cup olive oil or sunflower oil
  • ⅓ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • a pinch or two of salt to taste
  • a few grindings of fresh black pepper
  1. Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in a large soup pot, over medium-low heat. Add the chopped onion, leeks, carrots and celery. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes until softened but not browned. Stir in the tomatoes, potatoes, 8 cups of water or stock, 2 teaspoons of salt and the bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender about 30 minutes. Stir in the cooked beans, pasta (whatever shape you’re using), zucchini and green beans. Simmer just until the pasta is tender. Meanwhile make the pistou by pureeing the parsley, garlic and olive/sunflower oil in a blender or processor until smooth. Stir in the parmesan cheese. Season the soup with additional salt and pepper to taste. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and top with a spoonful or two of the pistou. A slice of Red Hen bread would be more than welcome.