Quick Recipes and Easy

Classic Dishes of Provence – Soupe au Pistou

Soupe au Pistou
(Provençal Vegetable Soup with Garlic & Basil)

Like many other traditional Provençal recipes, there are nearly as many versions of this wonderful soup as there are Provençal cooks! Some add leeks; some leave out potatoes. Some use pasta; some don’t. Some use Gruyere instead of Parmesan; some use Gruyere and Parmesan; some (like me) use neither. Some add the pistou sauce before serving the soup; some hand it round separately so that people can add as much or as small as they like; and so on and so forth…..

So I cannot place my hand on my heart and say that this is a truly authentic soupe au pistou recipe. To be perfectly honest, I doubt that such a thing really exists! But it’s as real and as authentic as I can make it – and, either way, it’s a really tasty soup that captures all the scents and flavours of Provence. It’s simple and straightforward – so go on, give it a try!

(Some people like to use meat- or poultry-based stocks when they make vegetable soups. With a couple of exceptions, I prefer not to. It’s just a question of personal taste, I suppose, but I find that any sort of stock tends to overwhelm the natural taste of the vegetables. I simply use fresh water – and I suggest you do the same!)

Ingredients: ( for 6 servings):

1 kg dried white haricot beans;
1 kg French green beans;
2 medium leeks;
1 medium onion;
2 medium carrots;
2 medium potatoes;
2 medium courgettes;
4 medium tomatoes;
4/5 tablespoons olive oil;
approx. 3 litres water;
seasoning to taste;
approx. 110g pistou sauce (see recipe below).


Start the soup the day before you plot to serve it.

Soak the dried haricot beans overnight. Then drain them, cover with fresh water and cook until just tender (about 40 minutes). Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, prepare all the vegetables for the soup. Wash and slice the leeks. Peel and chop the onion. Peel and dice the carrots and potatoes. Dice the courgettes (unpeeled). Chop the green beans into quarter-inch lengths. Skin, deseed and dice the tomatoes.

In a large saucepan sweat the prepared leeks, onion, carrots and potatoes in the olive oil until softened but not browned.

Add the green beans and courgettes. Stir well together.

Add the water. Bring to the boil and maintain at a brisk, rolling simmer for about 15 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and the drained haricot beans.

Simmer for another 5/6 minutes. Check the vegetables. They should be cooked but not mushy.

Check the seasoning.

Take the soup off the heat and stir in a excellent dollop of the pistou sauce.

Stir well to amalgamate everything.

Place the remaining pistou in a sauce boat and hand round separately.

(Some people like to add cut-up lengths of pasta to the soup for the last 8-10 minutes of cooking time. Others like to add grated Gruyere and/or Parmesan cheese. You can if you like, of course – it certainly makes for a more substantial soup – but to me these seem like unnecessary embellishments. Just let the clear, fresh taste of the vegetables shine through!)

To make Pistou:

Ah, pistou! All the scents and flavours of Provence are captured in this wonderful, evocative dish.

Use only garlic, fresh basil, extra-virgin olive oil and seasoning. If you start adding things like pine nuts and Parmesan cheese, you’ll end up with the Italian pesto instead! Not that there’s anything incorrect with pesto, of course – it’s just not what you want for this particular dish.

Be sure to use the brightest, freshest, greenest basil you can find.


3 large cloves garlic; large handful fresh basil leaves; 50ml extra-virgin olive oil; salt and freshly-ground black pepper.


Peel the garlic. Remove the basil leaves from their stalks. Pound the basil and garlic together with a pestle and mortar until you have a smooth, green paste. (You could, of course, use a food processor – but there’s something lovely and soothing about making pesto using the traditional methods and tools!)

Add the olive oil, drop by drop, as if making mayonnaise. Season. Serve.

That’s it!

You can find out more about the food, wine, restaurants and recipes of Provence at the author’s web site: cafe-de-provence.com cafe-de-provence.com

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