P1070514Seasonal produce is a moving target in spring. At first, there’s little difference with winter, except for the asparagus. But then other treats start to appear: fava, peas.

The weather is unstable, too. It can be warm enough for a dip in the pool in March, but the heat kicks on during the Ice Saints in May. P1070537Those rainy days are perfect for soup, especially a soup that celebrates the lively new flavors of the season: soupe au pistou. It was on a dark and chilly day that I decided we needed soup, one that used the big bunch of basil I’d bought–the first of the season.

There is no “recipe” for pistou. There are a few key ingredients that make it pistou and not, say, minestrone or bouillabaise or bisque. Any pistou soup needs pistou–a mix of basil, olive oil and garlic, like pesto without the nuts. And beans. And pasta. After that, you can add what’s in season at that moment. Because pistou soup is garden soup.P1070502I recently heard an excellent interview with the cookbook author Julia Turshen, who says she “never, ever follows recipes.” Her new book, “Small Victories,” aims to get people more at ease with cooking from scratch and reassuring them that they don’t have to follow recipes to the letter.

So here is one recipe for soupe au pistou. You can add/subtract depending on your tastes and what you find at the market.

Soupe au Pistou

First the pistou: 

A huge bunch of basil—imagine the leaves pressed into balls the size of each fist.

1 clove of garlic (I often imitate Guy Fieri and up the amount, but when I used two it got complaints for being too strong)

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

The soup (all the vegetables are diced into bite size):

1 onion (but if you have leftover greens of leeks, this is a good place to use them)

2-3 carrots

2 tomatoes (we used canned because it’s too early for garden tomatoes)

A large can of white beans (the cans here are 400 g, or 14 oz.)

1-2 zucchini

1 cup peas (frozen are OK)

1 cup green beans (frozen are OK—it’s what I used. Lazy, I didn’t cut them up and regretted it)

1/2 cup elbow macaroni, called coquillettes

salt and pepper

olive oil for cooking

Also worth considering: 

turnips

parsnips

cocos (broad, flat beans very popular here)

potatoes

fresh fava beans

snow peas

thyme or herbes de Provence

Possible changes/substitutions:

You can start with dried beans, of course. We tend not to plan far enough ahead and are grateful for cans.

You can use a mix of beans—white, red, striped, whatever.

You can leave out the pasta; the beans are hearty enough

In a Dutch oven, sauté the onion/leek in enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pot. Throw in the other vegetables, the beans (if you are using dried beans, cook them ahead), then add enough water to cover everything. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. You can make it ahead to this point and heat it up later. Remember to stir in the pasta so it has long enough to cook, but not so long that it disintegrates; check the cooking time on the package.

While the soup simmers, make the pistou. Traditionalists use a mortar and pestle to turn it into a pungent green slurry. I tried that, chopping the leaves down first, but mine was too minuscule; I tried a bigger bowl but that wasn’t better. I transferred it all to a blender, which wasn’t much of an improvement. I don’t have a food processor; that might have worked. But who cares? The basil and garlic were reduced enough to make a kind of paste anyway.      P1070510On the side, I sliced a baguette and topped it with grated Parmesan (fresh–not the powder in a can!). Two minutes under the broiler, and voilà. It probably seemed balanced because we had left out the pasta. Pasta + beans + bread seems like overkill. But to each his own.P1070516

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23 thoughts on “Provençal Soupe au Pistou

  1. Divine mixture. And good shout out for a cookery writer who is trying to get the message out that slavishly following recipes and being led entirely by glossy pictures is NOT the way to kitchen greatness. I’m hungry now and I only just finished le repas!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This soup looks absolutely full of taste and goodness, I’m always substituting ingredients with what I have in the fridge at that point in time…generally it works. My dad loves the tiny coquilettes which I bring it back from France for him, macaroni in the UK is sized bigger.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Really? How interesting that all the sizes wouldn’t be available.
      Chefs in a restaurant have to ensure they produce the exact same dish every time, but home cooks have a lot more freedom.

      Like

  3. Making soup on a blustery day is the best. Whatever is in the fridge always seems to work. I don’t believe there can be too much garlic ever…Fresh herbs elevate the taste. It’s sunny here today, so no soup making. The garden calls.

    Ali

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, fresh herbs make such a difference!
      It is HOT here today, but a few days ago, there was a big frost that killed a lot of the early vines. So sad to see them dead.

      Like

  4. We have dozens of recipe books. Basically I use them occasionally as rough guidance, Trev used to follow them to the letter but my related end approach has rubbed off.
    I actually edited our recipe book collection down before we moved ( to the ones we have actually opened in the last two decades)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have never made a pistou and now I am going o have to try it once I go to the market on Saturday! It looks lovely. I love visiting your blog because I always learn something new!

    Liked by 1 person

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