Genius Recipes

The Summery Vegetable Soup That Makes Itself

Chef Jody Williams’s Genius soupe au pistou is a happy home for any (or all!) the veg you've got.

July  8, 2020

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.


When we find ourselves with a garden overrun, a Pandora’s CSA box, a disconnect of loose odds and ends at the back of the crisper (or when we just want a nourishing bowl of vegetables), one fulfilling answer can be found in soupe au pistou.

As the late food writer Richard Olney describes in Simple French Food, “A soupe au pistou is a minestrone into which, at the moment of serving, a pistou [a descendant of the Genovese pesto] is incorporated. Beyond that point of definition, no two are alike and despite Italian antecedents, all are jealously Provençal.”

Jealously. Photo by Kristen Miglore

Although no two recipes are the same, at a minimum, most I’ve seen follow a certain pattern: Chop a haul of vegetables, then sauté and soften at least the most aromatic ones if not all of them in stages. Some call in a flavorful stock. Others add stock accessories, like the bundled herbs known in French as bouquet garni. Virtually all swirl in a garlicky pistou at the end.

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Top Comment:
“The addition of the pistou and olive oil at the end is a revelation and a good one at that. I do look forward to your videos you are so easy to listen to and learn from.”
— Curt C.
Comment

This recipe slashes or streamlines all but one of these steps.

Jody Williams, the chef and owner of beloved New York City restaurant Buvette and co-owner of Via Carota with her partner Rita Sodi, makes her soupe au pistou with unusual—and very effective—restraint. There’s no sautéeing. Just water, no stock. Not even garlic in the pistou. (1)

You pile every last vegetable (2) into a pot with water and then leave it alone to simmer for a good while. Yet what you get is still a bowl of rich, spoonable vegetables, not suffering from skirting the crowd. (3)

The soup alone is very simple, almost ritualistically so. You get the mellow sweetness of summer vegetables, creamy beans, and tomato-tinted broth—all reduced to whatever thickness you like (Jody loves hers slow-cooked until it’s porridge-like; mine has always been brothier for lack of time and tidy knifework). With the right attention to salt, this is a perfectly good lunch or dinner, especially with some buttered toast on the side.

But it gets better still. Any richness that was lost by skipping sautéeing and full-bodied stocks returns in an instant, when you swirl in your pistou, a bit more olive oil, and a flurry of Parmesan cheese. The warmth of the soup unlocks the scents of basil and Parmesan, greedibly drinks up the oils, and all sense of austerity is gone.

(1) Making the pistou can be as simple as stuffing fresh basil, Parmesan, and a pinch of salt into a mini-food processor, then drizzling in olive oil as you blend (which can even be done one-handed, as you can see in the video above)—although some swear by the beautiful results of pounding a pistou in a mortar.

(2) The vegetable list you see in the recipe is a suggestion—Jody makes this soup throughout spring and summer, using whatever vegetables are abundant at the time.

(3) While I'm itching to use this Genius technique to streamline more soups like cream of broccoli or other vegetables whose flavor can be coaxed slowly into something sweet and complex, I wouldn’t recommend leapfrogging over steps with just any recipe. I once tried a beef stew that took the same cavalier approach and found the result oddly sour and flat, lonely without the flavor that rubs off a good, deep sear.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]—thank you again to my former Food52 teammate (and Senior Writer for the Education Initiative at the Council on Foreign Relations), Annie Crabill for this one!

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.
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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."

33 Comments

julie July 23, 2020
Soooo Good! It's a chilly evening in Seattle so this is the perfect summer dinner! I wasn't sure about just dumping it all in the pot but this soup is a game changer. Thank you for the great videos from your kitchen.
 
Donna S. July 11, 2020
Good Morning! Your toddler is precious! I am curious, what brand is your mini food processor? It looks like the perfect size for me! Be Well!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. July 12, 2020
I think this is the current model—it's so handy: https://www.amazon.com/Cuisinart-DLC-2ABC-Processor-Brushed-Chrome/dp/B0000645YM?tag=food52-20
 
Donna S. July 13, 2020
Thanks Bunches! I plan on purchasing this mini processor today! Thank You for responding so quickly.
The Soupe Au Pistou looks divine!
 
kathy W. July 10, 2020
I thought it was excellent. Didn’t have fennel or leeks on hand and used fresh cherry tomatoes. Added a tablespoon of Vegeta. Loved it.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. July 12, 2020
Wonderful!
 
Kestrel July 9, 2020
I thought you were not supposed to cook dried beans with acids (tomatoes, in this case) because they would not cook properly and the skins would remain tough. Can you please tell me why that is not the case here? Thanks!
 
Curt C. July 9, 2020
I don't see the point in making a cook explain why her beans are NOT tough. I simply accept the fact that they are cooked to the cooks liking, and that is good enough for me. Maybe I learn something, maybe I don't.
 
Kestrel July 9, 2020
Wow - I ask a question out of sincere interest, and you comment in a negative way. Why? Don't we have enough problems in this world?
 
Curt C. July 9, 2020
Negative?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. July 12, 2020
Thank you both—Kestrel, you're right, but the relatively small amount of tomatoes, though it might slow them down a little, doesn't ultimately make a huge impact on the beans.
 
pattyk July 9, 2020
Please continue your videos in your kitchen even when they allow you to return to your usual office space. I love how personal they are. You have the cutest sous chef!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. July 12, 2020
Thank you!
 
jenmcshea July 9, 2020
Cutest baby!! I watched the little one more than the demonstration. Sorry :)
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. July 12, 2020
:)
 
Lynn July 9, 2020
Looking for the small blender you used for your pistou. Can you recommend where I can find one? Thank you for your recipe. It looks really good, and I plan on making it soon.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. July 12, 2020
I think this is the current model—it's so handy: https://www.amazon.com/Cuisinart-DLC-2ABC-Processor-Brushed-Chrome/dp/B0000645YM?tag=food52-20
 
Sam July 8, 2020
Fantastic! Thank you so much, this is exactly what I have been looking for.
Thanks once again
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. July 12, 2020
Yay!
 
witloof July 8, 2020
You can't find escarole in NYC? Citarella always has it, and so does Migliorelli Farms at Union Square Greenmarket.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. July 12, 2020
Thanks for the tips—I'm in Brooklyn and not taking the subway these days. My beloved bodega near my last apartment often had it, but I haven't seen it in my current neighborhood, so it's good to have a substitute.
 
margarett J. July 8, 2020
You don’t have to whisper so you don’t wake your daughter, start adding noise (like music or the sound of a tv) before you put her down to sleep. You will get her use to sound while she sleeps adjusting her to normal sound like conversation. She’s waking up when she hears sound because she’s not accustomed to normal every day sounds.
BTW: l’m a mother of 3 and a grandmother of 6. 😘 l love that you’re teaching cooking from your kitchen! Another BTW: l’ve owned 3 restaurants. Take good care of yourselves and stay safe and sane.
Margarett
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. July 12, 2020
Thank you, Margarett—she's usually pretty good at sleeping through noises (including the smoke detector, somehow?), but this was a strange case where she woke up unusually early, so we were being extra careful to help her get back to sleep so we could shoot the video!
 
Lesterthecat July 8, 2020
Hi Kristin, Thanks for showcasing this soup! I was wondering if I wanted to make this in the IP, approximately how long should I cook it? It’s too hot in CA to turn on the stove.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. July 12, 2020
To be honest, I don't have much experience with the Instant Pot (I don't have room for one, and am usually hunting for recipes that don't require special equipment), but I do want to get more familiar! I would reference a trusted recipe source to get the settings right—here's a minestrone from Heidi Swanson, who I always trust: https://www.101cookbooks.com/instant-pot-minestrone-soup-recipe/
 
Linda July 8, 2020
Was I the only one distracted by the darling toddler toes? Adorable!!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. July 12, 2020
:)
 
Curt C. July 8, 2020
"So embrace it". My new cooking mantra.
Time to hit up a few farmer's markets and make this soup. The addition of the pistou
and olive oil at the end is a revelation and a good one at that. I do look forward to your videos you are so easy to listen to and learn from.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. July 12, 2020
Thanks so much, Curt.
 
plevee July 8, 2020
Nice recipe but that wastes a lot of the leek and there is a simpler way to clean it. Check with Jacques Pepin!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. July 12, 2020
Thank you for the tip—loved seeing Chef Pépin's technique, as always. As you might have seen in the video, I recommend this brilliant recipe from Lindsay-Jean Hard for the leek tops: https://www.salon.com/2019/04/28/as-we-struggle-for-the-false-starts-of-spring-what-better-than-a-recipe-for-leek-with-pasta/
 
slcagency July 8, 2020
Thank you. You have made this recipie user friendly by your video. I’m eager to make this.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. July 12, 2020
Thank you—I'm so happy to hear it.