What is Soupe Au Pistou?
It’s officially spring. So let me first start by saying ‘happy spring’. Aren’t we all ready for spring come this time of the year?
After a bit of contemplation, what came to mind is an early spring Soupe Au Pistou, a fancy French phrase for vegetable soup with basil paste.
Intuitively, summer or fall — with its corresponding bounty of vegetables — may seem ideal for this soup; however, soupe au pistou is truly a soup for all seasons.
This is a simple soup, a flavorful, an energizing soup. What makes it special is utilizing what’s in season and readily available where you live.
Head to your local farmers’ market and get inspired by what you find. I know, not the most inspiring time of year (depending on where you live) as far as local produce goes, but there are still treasures to be found.
The Traditional Preparation of Soup Au Pistou
A traditional soupe au pistou incorporates vegetables such as green beans (or haricots verts), yellow summer squash, and zucchini.
But, this time of year, swap out the summer squash/zucchini for winter squash, replace fresh tomatoes with canned, and instead of fresh beans, use dried.
Take advantage of the abundance of cruciferous vegetables (kale and/or cabbage are ideal for this soup), or incorporate any number of root vegetables such as rutabaga, potatoes, parsnips, or turnips…the possibilities are endless.
If you have the foresight to plan ahead, you can prepare your pistou in advance when basil is plentiful and store in the freezer (in ice cube trays). Am never quite that organized, but did manage to track down some local, hydroponically-grown basil.
Some of My Farmer’s Market Finds
Here are a few of the seasonal ingredients that I incorporated into my soupe au pistou.
Look how beautiful these carrots look! They are super sweet and taste amazing!
You can find carrots in a rainbow of colors — cosmic purple, purple haze, atomic red, solar yellow — to name a few.
Squash is another vegetable that tastes absolutely amazing in this soup.
This particular variety of winter squash is called Sunshine Squash (a type of Kabocha squash); it’s sweet and nutty, but you could easily substitute with butternut, delicata, hubbard, or any other favorite variety.
Ever try a rutabaga? Rutabaga is thought to have evolved from a cross between a cabbage and a white turnip. This beta-carotene rich root vegetable is starchier and sweeter than a turnip, but more tender than a potato.
Lets Make Some Soup Au Pistou
Once you have all your ingredients on hand, this is an easy soup to prepare. It requires a bit of chopping (try to keep the vegetables uniform in size so they cook evenly) and then basically all into the pot where it simmers away and develops flavor. Be sure to taste and season as you go.
The pesto gets swirled into the soup after ladling into individual bowls. I like a nice amount of pesto in my soup.
While not particularly traditional, I added a little mint to the pistou. If you favor a more traditional pistou, omit the mint.
If you are feeling adventurous, you can experiment with various combinations of pistou, such as basil with kale, watercress, arugula, mustard greens, sorrel, spinach, stinging nettles, etc. Hope you enjoy!
- 8 ounces dried small white beans or cranberry (borlotti)
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium leek, white and tender green parts only, cut into thin rings
- 1 medium onion, peeled and diced
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled and quartered lengthwise
- ½ lb winter squash (such as butternut, Hubbard, Kabocha, or Kuri) seeded, peeled, and diced
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and cubed
- 6 ounces (1/2 medium) rutabaga (or 6 ounces turnips or parsnips, peeled and cubed)
- ½ small can (7 ounces) whole plum tomatoes in juice
- Bouquet garni: several fresh bay leaves, several sprigs of thyme and parsley, tied securely with twine
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 quarts (8 cups) of water
- ½ head Savoy cabbage or bunch of kale (or combination), thinly sliced
- ⅓ cup capellini/angel hair or spaghetti, broken into small pieces
- Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1 recipe Pistou (recipe to follow)
- 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- Sea salt to taste
- 2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
- 1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
- ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Soak the beans beans overnight. The next day, drain the beans. Set aside.
- Heat the oil in a large stockpot. When hot, add the the onion and saute until tender, about 5 minutes.
- Add the leeks, onion, garlic, squash, carrots, rutabaga (turnips or parsnips), tomatoes, bouquet garni, and 1 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of black pepper, and saute another 5 minutes.
- Add the drained beans, stir to combine, and cook for 2 more minutes.
- Add 2 quarts (8 cups) of water, re-season with salt, and simmer gently, uncovered, until the beans are tender, about 1 hour (cooking time will vary according to the freshness of the beans).
- Taste for seasoning and re-season with salt and pepper.
- Add the kale and/or cabbage and cook a few more minutes, until just wilted.
- Add the pasta and boil until just al dente. Taste for seasoning.
- Serve hot, topped with pistou and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.
- For the mint-basil pistou: place the minced garlic, salt, and basil in the bowl of a food processor, and process to a paste. Add the oil and process again. Taste for seasoning. Stir again before serving.