Soupe au Pistou is a traditional Provençal soup for all seasons. In summer, all sorts of fresh beans and summer squashes prevail. In winter, dried beans and root vegetables take their place. Always, the soup is brightened with fresh pistou (Provençal's version of Pesto) stirred in at the table. Let your imagination take flight. —ChefJune
white or cranberry beans
each lima, fava and green beans
zucchini or summer squash
onions (fresh if in season)
head green cabbage (omit in summer)
dried herbes de Provence (1 tablespoon fresh in season)
fresh sage leaves, chiffonaded
coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
tightly packed basil
4 to 6
extra virgin olive oil
a pinch of sea salt
1/2 to 1 cups
Parmigiano, Grana Padano or Pecorino cheese (optional)
If you use dried white beans, parboil them for 1/2 hour. Shell and blanch the limas and favas if they are fresh. String the green beans or snap off both ends, and cut into 1-inch pieces (put a handful at a time on a board and chop roughly with a large knife.) Peel and dice the potatoes, onions, carrots and turnips. Dice the zucchini (unpeeled). Coarsely chop the leek, cabbage and celery.
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan. Add the onions and cook over a medium flame for 5 minutes, then add the potatoes, leek, carrots, sage and as much of the other vegetables as the pan will hold. Saute for 5 more minutes.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the contents of the pan, along with the rest of the vegetables, bay leaves and salt and pepper. Simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. Check the seasonings and continue cooking slowly for 1 hour more, or until the vegetables are just tender.
While the soup is simmering, prepare the pistou. Rinse and thoroughly dry the basil leaves, and shred them with kitchen shears. Peel and crush the garlic cloves. Grate the cheese.
Place garlic, basil and salt in a large mortar and pound vigorously with the pestle until you have a good paste. Add the cheese, then the oil, stirring vigorously until smooth. [To make the Pistou in your food processor (fitted with the metal blade), turn on the motor and drop the garlic through the feed tube. When it is finely chopped, turn off the motor, scrape down the sides, then add the well-dried whole basil leaves, and salt in the work bowl and process until the basil is nearly puréed. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil until you have a achieved a paste. Add the grated cheese and pulse a few times to blend.]
Add the pistou to the soup a moment before serving, and stir -- or bring it to the table in a sauce bowl for each diner to add.