This famous soup from the county of Nice in the South of France is interpreted in a dizzying number of ways and is a traditional dish in the early Summer (or at least when basil is available). My friend Marcelle Dupuis, a native Niçoise (she speaks the local dialect), shrieked when I told her most cookbooks use parmesan cheese in the ingredient list for the pistou (pesto). “Non, non! jamais! ” she said emphatically, “pas de fromage!! seulement du basilique, de l’ail et de l’huile d’olive!” (no cheese, only basil, garlic and olive oil)
In all due respect for my dear friend, parmesan cheese is added to the pistou, according to Niçois authorities, such as the former mayor of Nice, Jacques Médecin.
Well, here it is, a hearty, healthy, soup, 100% vegan (without the parmesan). I cheated a teensy bit and dropped a handful of quinoa at the end instead of the customary vermicelli pasta.
1 1/2 cups white beans (such as Northern beans), soaked for a couple of hours and cooked in plenty of water (or use 2 15-ounce cans)
2 large potatoes peeled and diced (keep in water till use) (optional)
6 large tomatoes, peeled and diced (or a 14 ounce can)
4 large carrots, peeled and sliced
4 zucchinis, diced
3 cups of green beans, cut into small one inch pieces (optional)
1 cup leeks, sliced into rings (or use onions or scallions)
1 cup vermicelli pasta (I used quinoa)
2 bunches fresh basil, leaves only
8 garlic cloves, mashed with salt in a mortar or a mini-processor
1/2 cup olive oil (more as needed to make a paste)
1/2 cup grated parmesan (optional)
1. Place the beans in a Dutch oven with at least 8 cups of water, and add the potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and leeks. Simmer for about 20 minutes and then add the rest of the ingredients and simmer about 15 minutes longer until all the ingredients are cooked to your liking.
2. Prepare the pistou and set aside. The pistou is prepared either by hand in a mortar (the hard way, but authentic) or in a mini-blender or processor. When the soup is ready, place on the counter and add the pistou by swirling it to combine it with the ingredients. The pistou should never be placed over direct heat as it is meant to be raw. It truly revives the soup this way.
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