Provencal Vegetable Soup au Pistou is my idea of a perfect spring soup – it accommodates virtually any vegetables you find at the store or in your CSA and combines them into an amazingly flavorful first course or main dish. A soup of peasant origins from the Provence region in southeast France, it’s my contribution to the May Progressive Eats theme of “Flavors of France.”
The classic components are simple: a water base, beans, vegetables, pasta or noodles, and pistou, a condiment comprised of basil, garlic and olive oil, sometimes with tomatoes and/or parmesan cheese.
Variations on Provencal Vegetable Soup au Pistou
Of course, if you look far and wide enough, you’ll find that the preparation and ingredient variations are almost endless. For example, you can substitute broth for water, cook beans from dried or use canned, and change up the vegetables to your heart’s content.
You can even vary the central ingredient, the pistou condiment. Sounds like pesto (both linguistically and in its ingredients), no? Hardly surprising – the region shares a border with Italy and the bible of French cuisine, Larousse Gastronomique, traces the word “pistou” to the Italian “pestare,” which means to pound. Some recipes for Provencal Vegetable Soup au Pistou actually call for homemade or store-bought pesto (with nuts) instead of nutless pistou, while others combine basil and tomatoes, with or without cheese. And the pistou can be stirred into the soup, added as a dollop on the top, or served on the side. Or as my husband described it, “minestrone soup with something like pesto on the side.”
My Take on Provencal Vegetable Soup au Pistou
After deciding to make soup au pistou, I checked out an array of recipes. The Larousse Gastronomique version is the “gold standard,” with dried beans and hand-pounded basil. David Lebovitz has a straightforward version and I checked out a super-simple one from SeriousEats. I wasn’t too enamored of Julia Child’s throw-all-the-vegetables-in-the-pot-and-boil-them-to-death (just kidding, but 40 minutes is a long time) variety from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, except for her pistou, a mixture of tomato paste and basil without nuts. Of all the soups, my favorite was Dorie Greenspan’s version from Around My French Table, but not her use-pesto-as-pistou ending.
And so, I adapted Dorie Greenpan’s soup and Julia Child’s pistou. The result received the household seal of approval – my husband ate it two nights in a row, smiling all the while. I purposely used proportions that hearken back to the peasant roots for this soup – imagining the generations of cooks who added a pinch of this and a dash of that to get their own version of Provencal vegetable soup au pistou just the way they liked it. In a few cases, I have provided a measured amount, but feel free to improvise on quantities of those too if you’re so inclined.
Provencal Vegetable Soup au Pistou
Progressive Eats is our virtual version of a Progressive Dinner Party. As I’ve already mentioned, this month’s theme is Flavors of France. Jane Bonacci who blogs at the Heritage Cook is our host. Hope you’ll join us and make something unique and delicious that is French or French-inspired!
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, a progressive dinner involves going from house to house, enjoying a different course at each location. With Progressive Eats, the month’s host choses the theme, members share recipes suitable for a delicious meal or party, and you can hop from blog to blog to check them out.
We have a core group of bloggers, but always need substitutes. Plus, if there is enough interest, we would consider additional groups. To find out how you can participate, please contact Barb for more information.
The Progressive Eats Flavors of France Feast
- Tarte á l’Oignon – French Onion Tart from Spice Roots
- Gougeres filled with Bechamel aux Champignons from Pastry Chef Online
- Provencal Vegetable Soup au Pistou from Mother Would Know (you’re here!)
- Duck Breasts a l’Orange from The Heritage Cook
- Fig and Anise Bread from The Wimpy Vegetarian
Vegetables and Sides
- Zucchini Summer Squash Tomato Gratin from Jeannette’s Healthy Living
- Kir Royale from Miss in the Kitchen
- Madeleines from Barbara Bakes
- Triple-Layer Chocolate Macaroon Cake from François Payard from Creative Culinary
Provencal Vegetable Soup au Pistou
- 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 medium onion
- 1 leek, white and light green parts only
- 1 stalk celery
- 4 cloves garlic, divided
- 1-2 zucchini
- 1-2 carrots
- 1-2 potatoes, preferably yellow or Yukon gold
- 2-3 sprigs parsley
- 1 handful fresh thyme and rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried
- 1 bay leaf
- 6 cups hot water
- 1/2 15 oz. can beans (cannellini, kidney, navy or a mixture)
- kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 2 large handfuls frozen corn
- 1 large handful fresh basil
- 3 tablespoons Parmesan, grated
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
Wash and chop all the vegetables (onion, leek, celery, carrot, zucchini, potato, and green beans) into pieces roughly the same size, between ½ and 1 inch. Mince the garlic. Pull the thyme and rosemary (if using fresh) and parsley off their stems, mince the parsley and crush the rest into the small bowl or ramekin. Rinse the beans and set aside.
Heat the oil in the pot. Add the chopped onion, leek, celery and ½ the minced garlic (2 cloves), cooking them for about 10 minutes until the vegetables soften. Add the carrots, potato and herbs, continuing to cook the vegetables for about 2-3 minutes until they are thoroughly mixed and the newly added ones begin to shine.
Add the bay leaf and the hot water. (I heated the water in the microwave until quite hot but not boiling.). Simmer the soup for 8-10 minutes until the carrots and potatoes are soft.
While the soup is simmering, make the pistou. Do that by either pounding or processing the remaining 2 cloves of minced garlic, the fresh basil (torn into pieces), the grated parmesan, and the tomato paste. Then dribble in the 3 tablespoons of olive oil mixing until you get a paste and set aside.
Now back to the soup au pistou. Add salt (about ½ teaspoon), freshly ground pepper and the pasta/noodles. Simmer the soup until the pasta/noodles are cooked. As a ballpark, figure another 5 minutes if the pasta/noodles would normally take 8 - 10 minutes to fully cook but slightly less time if they would normally fully cook in less than 8 minutes. Then add the canned and green beans and simmer the soup another 4-5 minutes. Finally, add the frozen corn and stir for a minute or so to mix everything and warm the corn.
Serve immediately with the pistou and bread, preferably a baguette or a boule with a nice crust. If you refrigerate the soup and serve it later, the pasta and beans will absorb much of the liquid. In that case, add more hot water or broth when you reheat it, or enjoy it as a vegetable stew.