Pistou soup (Soupe au pistou)

March 10, 2015  •  Category: ,

soupe au pistou

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.

soup elements
mise en place


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.

soup w:pistou


12 Comments  •  Comments Feed

  1. Rosa says:

    Delicious and wonderfully summery…



  2. Sylva T. says:

    Going to make this tonight! Fabulous healthy soup, and great for lent.

  3. leaf (the indolent cook) says:

    My kind of soup! And I think I have most, if not all of the ingredients, too!

  4. Velva says:

    A beautiful spring soup…soulful and comforting. It is hard to resist the cheese when the flavors go so nicely with basil, garlic and olive oil.


  5. Katie says:

    What a wonderful looking soup. I’ll have it with Parmesan,please….

  6. Hélène (Cannes) says:

    On ne l’utlise pas tant que ça dans la cuisine provençale classique, le parmesan. Ici, on couvre les pâtes et les raviolis de fromage râpé mais pas de parmesan. D’emmental, plutôt, tu vois ? DAns le pesto alla genovese, par contre, il est obligatoire. On lui ajoute souvent du pecorino sardo … Mais bon, ensuite, chacun fait ce qu’il veut, hein ? ;o) Et toi, là, tu m’as donné des envies de longues soirées d’été, avec cette jolie soupe servie dans ce ravissant pot en terre.

  7. Joumana says:

    @Helene: Donc, Marcelle avait raison! Merci de remettre les pendules a l’heure! Bisous 🙂

    @Katie: thanks and the cheese does add some pep to it!

    @Velva: totally agree!

    @Sylva: Thanks and yes, ideal for Lent!
    @Rosa: Thanks!
    @leaf (the indolent cook); glad to hear this! 🙂

  8. Oui, Chef says:

    Fabulous…I can smell it from here! Love the crock you photographed it in, so rustic. My vote would be yes for parmesan.

  9. Devon says:


    this looks really lovely and I am very keen to make it, just a couple of questions.
    1. When you say “simmer for a while” how long would that be roughly?
    2. Once you have added the rest of the ingredients, how long do you leave it on the heat for?

    Thank you!

    • Joumana says:

      @Devon: I am sorry, I often forget to be more precise with my directions! OK, it all depends on the types of veggies one uses..Once the beans are cooked, all the other ingredients cook rather quickly. If you leave it on a low to medium eat, simmering them should not take more than 20 minutes, tops. Taste though, then right before serving, add the pistou and swirl all over the soup. (firstly, add it to a ladle of soup, stir then pour into the soup).I will edit the post, thanks for pointing it out!

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