Monday, September 8, 2008

Soupe au Pistou

Finally I made it. The soup that is.

The first time I tried Soupe au Pistou, (a kind of French vegetable soup made more exciting with pesto or pistou in French) was not in Provence where it originates, but in San Francisco at our old favorite haunt, the Zuni Cafe, at a long decadent lunch with my old boss, Carlos, a.k.a Timo, the one who taught me how to eat.

It came to the table in simple white bowls, a broth perfectly thickened by the starch of the broken spaghetti and perfectly cooked beans. It looked so gorgeous, with perfect new baby vegetables cut in rounds, fingerling potatoes, young carrots, pattypan squash, thin zuchinni and bright orange cherry tomatoes. In the middle, a bright green dollop of pistou, the french version of pesto but without the pinenuts. A little stir and the soup thickened, turned herbal, each bite fragrant with basil, each vegetable retained it's identity.

I tried to recreate it when we got home and it was as good as I remembered only I had to wing it. I hear it's best in the early summer, when the vegetables and basil are still new but now is the time for fresh beans and all of the vegetables are still wonderful so it's my End of the Summer Soupe au Pistou. (I mean, everyone has their own version, right?)

End of the Summer Soupe au Pistou
makes about 10-12 servings.

Buy the freshest vegetables you can find, maybe even different varieties of each vegetable.
It's best to prep everything first before you start and even better, cut everything
in pretty rounds so the soup really looks pretty.

1/4 cup fruity olive oil
8-9 cippolini onions, peeled and cut in fours
(or 1 vidalia onion, quartered and chopped)
3 small fresh leeks, washed and cut in rounds
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

4-5 carrots, peeled and cut into rounds
10-12 fingerling potatoes, peeled and cut into rounds

a basket of small heirloom cherry tomatoes, 2 cups or so,
one cut in half, the other cup left whole)

2 cups fresh shell beans, maybe cranberry or white haricots,
soaked overnight and drained (or 1 can of cannelini beans, drained)
about 10 cups of water or enough to cover

1 bouquet garni (a sprig of thyme, a sprig or two of parsley and sage and a bay leaf if you want. tie with a string or put into a little muslin bag.)
about 1 or 2 cups of green beans, trimmed and cut small
a few small zucchinis and yellow squash, washed well and cut in rounds
1/2 lb dry pasta, I like spaghetti, broken in pieces or use little elbows or ditalini
sea salt and fresh ground pepper

3 cloves fresh garlic
1 tsp coarse salt or sea salt
2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/3-1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup fresh parmesan cheese, grated

1. Heat oil in a large pot and throw in onions and leeks until they begin to sweat. Add garlic.
When everything looks soft and smells delicious, add carrots and potatoes and season with about a teaspoon of salt and a good crack of pepper. Saute a little longer, about 5 minutes.
If using fresh shell beans, add those now (if using canned beans wait 'til later) and then the cup of cut tomatoes. Cover with water about 3/4 upthe pot, add bouquet garni, bring to a boil and let simmer for about 30-40 minutes, until beans and potatoes are tender. Don't cover and try to skim the foam that comes up--it's nicer that way.

2. Add the green beans, squash, remaining tomatoes and the pasta (if using canned beans add those now too). You may want to add a little more salt at this point. Continue simmering until these are tender and pasta is al dente about 15 minutes. Don't cover or your vegetables won't be bright! you may have to skim again.

3. Now is a good time to make the pistou. I never made it in a mortar and pestle until tonight and may I just say, it was well worth it. Crush garlic with the salt to make a creamy paste. Add the basil, a few leaves at a time, grinding to incorporate with the garlic paste until you have no leaves left. Then slowly add olive oil, a little at a time, til it's a creamy drizzly consistency. Stir in the parmesan gently (you can also do it in a food processor, although try it once without--it really makes a big difference!)

When it's all done, season with salt and pepper if it tastes too bland and serve soup in a bowl with a generous dollop of pistou on top and extra on the side. For true decadence but not necessary, drizzle a little good olive oil on top of that.
Stir and enjoy the best vegetable soup tout le monde.


Mrs.French said...

straight in the reacipe file it had me at "pistou."

Anonymous said...

it is beautiful and i love the pestle and mortar!

peachey said...

oh boy
oh joy

High Desert Diva said...


heidi said...

i can smell the fresh basil from here.... mmmmm.

montague said...

what gorgeous photos! and i cant wait to make this myself! now i just need some TIME OFF!

Anonymous said...

I like to have a niice bowl of soup... it makes me verrrry sleepy...


Victoria said...

I am seriously salivating and want some right now!
Thanks for sharing the recipe!

AC said...

yum! i have a new pot from le creuset that is still waiting for its first recipe and this might be it!

Camille said...

Oh, this is a soup I'd love! The first two photos are fantastic. I could see hanging them in a kitchen.

Helene said...

I just had a throwback to childhood eating my grandma's soupe au pistou by the fireplace! Thank you :)

Robin said...

Mmmmm.... Summer in a bowl, can't wait to make it!

Botany's Desire said...

Nice recipe. I love soup. I will be trying it out this winter.