Friday, 28 March 2014

A Little French Soup

Pistou, a condiment from the Provence region of France was introduced by the Italians in the 19th century. 'Pistou' is really the French equivalent of a 'Pesto' and consists of a mix of fresh basil, garlic, oil and a little parmesan cheese. Generally the ingredients are pounded together in a mortar and pestle and added to a broth to enhance the flavour.

Soup au Pistou is my all time favourite French soup although one which I haven't made for a fair time. 

When I lived and worked in Paris, I was introduced to this soup au pistou by an elderly French woman who could dress a chicken, chop it into piece and turn it into an amazing cassoulet, even though she was completely blind. She stunned me with what she could do just by the feel and she never seemed to make a mistake.
I shared a kitchen occasionally with this woman and when we cooked she told me stories about her childhood in the country and how making a 'pistou' reminded her of her so much of her family who used to grow all their own vegetables, keep chickens and pigs and the odd horse to work the fields.

I was reminded of this relationship a couple of weeks ago when I was rummaging through my old postcards and I found one that I had received from a friend who had visited the picturesque town of Sauve. This is the town where my elderly friend had lived as a child.  This sent me on a long hunt through an old trunk, finding a few dolls, some odd magazines (not sure why I kept those) and a heap of old exercise books to try and find the recipe that she had given me many years ago. I am delighted that I found it and can share it with you.

Madame Leroux, ici c'est votre recette. Merci beaucoup.

Soup au Pistou

Ingredients - Serves 8 - 10 people

500g white dried haricot beans
1 large leek sliced
300g French green beans
300g carrots diced
3 zucchinis diced
3 large tomatoes chopped
300g potatoes, peeled and diced
Salt and pepper
2 litres of vegetable stock (see below)
100g pasta (I use Risoni)

For the Pistou

5 cloves garlic crushed
bunch fresh basil
Olive oil
Grated parmesan

Vegetable Stock

Making your own vegetable stock is very easy and so much better than using commercial ones, however if you are short on time then do what you have to and use a ready made stock.
2 carrots chopped
1 onion chopped
1 zucchini diced
a few stalks of celery or tops of celery chopped
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
2 litres of water
Olive oil
Knob of butter

In a large saucepan heat olive oil and a knob of butter.
Throw in all the vegetables, parsley and caramelise for 5 mins, stirring continually. Add, water, bay leaves, salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and cook for approximately 1 hour. Strain the stock, and it is ready to use.

Soak the haricot beans overnight with enough water to completely cover. Strain the following day and they are ready to use.


  • In a large saucepan bring your stock to the boil, add drained haricot beans, potatoes and carrots and bring back to the boil.
  • Add French green beans, leek and zucchini and bring back to the boil. Add tomatoes and continue to cook on a low heat until the vegetables are almost soft and add pasta. If you use Risoni it will only take a few minutes to cook.
  • Adjust seasoning.
Serve the soup with a spoonful of 'Pistou', a sprinkling of parmesan cheese and a good chunk of baguette!


You can put all the ingredients into a mortar and pound with your pestle or put into a blender and blend together. Add as much oil as you need to make a nice paste, but try and keep some texture to it.

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