Soupe au Pistou, or what I like to call the French version of Minestrone Soup with their version of pesto (that being the pistou, of course) is one of my favourite summer soups. Summer has struggled to show itself this year so we’ve had a few weeks of moderately warm temperatures with a bit of sun, but still plenty of clouds in the sky to limit not only the rays of sunshine, but also to moderate the temperature itself. So it feels right to have a light soup like a minestrone or a soupe au pistou that not only has the soothing qualities of soup, but also light enough for the current climate and make you feel full of vitality from the abundance of (fresh) vegetables used to make the soup. Fortunately, a visit from W resulted in a bounty of treasures from her allotment including some green beans, courgettes, marrow, purple garlic. Plus I was given some tomatoes from another friend and given that I make minestrone quite regularly, I opted this time to make soupe au pistou – Especially as I had some Parmesan and a load of basil that needed using up too.
The soup itself is very simple to make; Firstly, you will need to chop the vegetables into a (smallish) dice so that they are roughly the same size, not just so that they cook in roughly the same time, but it also adds a certain neatness to the final dish. I sweated the onions off on a medium heat so that after about 5 minutes, they were cooked through without having taken on any colour. Once the onions are cooked through, the sliced garlic was added and again, cooked through. At this point, I remembered that I had some diced smoked bacon which needed using up so that was chucked in and cooked through, before the diced carrots were added to the pot. Whilst the onion, garlic, bacon and carrot mixture is cooking, you need to skin and de-seed your tomatoes.
Make a small incision in each tomato whilst you boil some water in another saucepan. Once the water is boiled, drop the tomatoes in and get some iced water ready in another bowl. After no more than a minute or two, fish the tomatoes out and drop them into the iced water to immediately cool them down. If you leave them in the hot water for too long, you run the risk of cooking the tomatoes when all you want to do is to heat them through, and when you drop them into the cold water you also loosen the skins thus making it easy to peel. Once the tomatoes are peeled, cut them into quarters and remove the central core so all you’re left with the is the (peeled) outer flesh of the tomato. Finely dice (or chop) the tomato flesh and keep aside.
Back to the pot and the onions, garlic, (bacon) and carrots have softened by now so you can add your chopped courgettes (and marrow as I had in my case) and the green beans which have been cut into small lengths. I also added a can of drained cannellini beans rather than add any pasta shapes or spaghettini which in my mind makes it too similar to a minestrone soup. You could add any veg that you have – Sweetcorn would be nice and I’ve even seen recipes which have added peas, but it’s pretty much whatever you can get your hands on and/or whatever you fancy. At this point, chuck in the tomatoes that you’ve spent so much time peeling and chopping and here’s a nice tip I learned when making soups; It’s always good to bring another saucepan of water to the boil so that when you add the boiling water to the mixture, you don’t lose too many nutrients as opposed to adding cold water and bringing that up to the boil. And for a soup like this where freshness of produce is key, it’s good to keep as many nutrients as possible to get the full benefit of the ingredients. Bring the soup to the boil and simmer for whilst you get crack on with the final part of the dish – The pistou.
As I mentioned earlier, pistou is very similar to pesto but the main difference is that there are no pine nuts. In a small food processor (or a pestle and mortar if you so wish), blend some peeled garlic with a bunch of basil leaves (don’t add the stalks as they’re too fibrous) until finely chopped, add some grated parmesan and blitz again until well combined before adding the olive oil slowly to the mixture (whilst the processor is still running) so that it all comes together like a paste. Check for seasoning – It should be a nice freshness from the basil with a taste of parmesan (and in my case, lots of garlic as I like it quite garlicky). Empty into a container and you’re pretty much ready to serve. Oh, I also dropped the rind of the parmesan into the soup as it was simmering to add a bit more flavour to the soup (and continue the parmesan taste).
Check the soup for seasoning and you’re ready to serve; Ladle the soup into a bowl, making sure to get plenty of the vegetables for freshness and the broth, dollop some of the pistou on top and you’re ready to go.
The vegetables are fresh enough to make you feel all vitalised as you eat it and the liquid itself is almost sweet from the vegetables used. However, the whole thing is completely transformed by the addition of the pistou – mix in the pistou and you go from boiled vegetables in a light broth to fresh tasting vegetables in a deep, flavourful and wholesome broth. The addition of the pistou elevates the whole thing from a humble soup into something much more vibrant and uplifting to the soul. Seriously, the difference before and after is amazing; I mean you have a nice dish before but mix in the pistou and you have a fantastic dish. I couldn’t stop eating it and before the weather turns too cold, I’ll be making it again for sure.
The full set of photos can be viewed at my Flickr page