Soupe au Pistou is a classic dish in the South of France that inspires images of sunlight glistening on the blue Mediterranean, a chilled bottle of rosé, a beautifully set table under the shade of an olive tree, and freshly made pesto in a stone mortar. Over the last century, chefs from around the world have learned this soup, along with many other French classics.
The local cuisine in Nice is very similar to the food just across the Italian border with some distinct differences. For instance, pesto in Italy is a mixture of basil, garlic, cheese and pine nuts whereas pesto on the French side leaves out the pine nuts and, occasionally, includes cherry tomatoes. Considering the size of Provence, the pistou soup may have as many variations as there are villages. Usually a pistou soup will include fresh white kidney beans, green beans, onions or leeks, and spaghetti. Other variations may include chopped tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, potatoes, rice and even pumpkin or squash.
This classic vegetarian soup captures the essence of summertime, using fresh summer vegetables at their peak. Below is a recipe by Julia Child, recognized for bringing French cuisine to the American public. Julia Child was inspired by the South of France and was an exceptional chef. In fact you can rent Bastide du Vignal, a villa that was owned by Simone Beck, a close friend of Julia Child and M.F.K Fischer. Julia Child was a regular guest at the property where she and Simone hosted many gatherings together. It was times spent at this bastide that prompted Julia Child to buy her own villa in the South of France, which happened to be the property just next door!
3 quarts water
2 cups diced waxy potatoes
2 cups diced carrots
2 cups diced onion or white of leek
1 tablespoon salt
2 cups canned white navy or kidney beans, drained
1/3 cup broken spaghetti
1 slice stale white bread, crumbled
2 cups fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Optional : pinch of saffron
4 cloves crushed garlic
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 to 1/2 cup fruity olive oil
1) To make soup bring the water, potatoes, carrots, onions (or leeks), and salt to a boil. Once at a boil, reduce heat and let simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. About 20 minutes before serving add white beans, broken spaghetti, bread, pepper and saffron to the soup and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the green beans and simmer 5 to 10 minutes more, until they are cooked through but still crunchy. Again, adjust salt and pepper to taste.
2 ) To make pistou place the garlic, tomato paste, basil, and cheese in a another pot while the soup is simmering. Pound to a paste with a wooden spoon, then beat in olive oil, drop by drop.
3) To finish and serve whisk a cup of hot soup into tureen containing pistou. When smooth add rest of soup and stir well to combine. Serve hot with French bread or croutons.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings