Fact: I have never been to culinary school. I'm just a self-taught food crazy lady who watched a lot of food network shows in college and reads lots of cookbooks on the reg! However, I did get to spend a week cooking with author Patricia Wells at her farmhouse in Provence about 12 years ago and it changed my life! After graduating from college, some girlfriends and I decided to sign up for one of Patricia's iconic summer cooking classes. We cooked with her throughout a magical week at her charming farmhouse in Vaison La Romaine, learning to make classic Provençal dishes as well as other less traditional delicacies. We even got to use Julia Child's former stove! The first recipe Patricia taught us to make was Soupe au Pistou. This stew of humble vegetables, white beans and pasta blew us all away- it was nothing fancy, but epitomized for me the simple elegance of French country food.
Ever since we first made this soup over a decade ago, I've been revisiting iterations of Patricia's classic recipe. In the cooler months, I'll make a winter soupe au pistou with canned tomatoes, butternut squash and kale, but the classic combo calls for warm weather veg like zucchini, fresh tomatoes and green beans. It can be a soup for all seasons!
The recipe that Patricia taught us calls for a few extra steps and some added time- I have streamlined this version for the busy weeknight kitchen. You will notice that I cook the pasta and green beans separately and then add them to the soup pot to reheat when ready to serve- this is mainly because I will often make the soup base ahead of time and do not want those ingredients to lose their texture hanging out in the hot broth for too long. Cooking these ingredients in another pot ensures that they won't overcook, make the soup too thick or lose their color.
The homemade "pistou" sauce is the icing on the cake- it's similar to pesto and you dollop it on the served bowls of soup so that each diner can swirl it into their bowl for added flavor and color. If you're in a pinch, you can use store bought Italian pesto as a substitute. My husband and I love to slurp this soup when we are craving something hearty yet light- it's a super satisfying vegetarian main that we cannot get enough of! And of course, it's best served avec crusty baguette. I hope to share some more of Patricia's recipes and wisdom with you all soon- in the meantime, enjoy this delicious Soupe au Pistou inspired by a memorable week cooking with dear friends in the South of France! Sallie, Gracie and Tita- I'm ready to go back!
prep time: 15 min. cook time: ~45 min. serves: 6-8
extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
2 large celery stalks, diced
2 large carrots, diced
1 small zucchini, diced
1 small yellow squash, diced
1 medium yukon gold potato, diced
1 tbsp tomato paste
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 lb fresh tomatoes, peeled, cored and diced
1-20 oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
6-8 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 parmesan rind
1 large bay leaf
6 sprigs thyme
1 cup orzo pasta
10 oz green beans, trimmed and cut into 2” pieces
2 cups packed basil, roughly chopped
1 plump garlic clove, roughly chopped
1/3-1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp lemon zest
Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and carrot along with a pinch of salt and sweat 5-7 minutes to soften. Add the zucchini, yellow squash and potatoes and another pinch of salt and sweat 5-7 minutes more. Toss in the garlic, tomato paste and red pepper flakes and stir into veggies- cook 2 more minutes, then deglaze with the white wine to reduce.
Add the white beans and tomatoes to the pot with the veggies. Tie the Parmesan rind, thyme sprigs and bay leaf together with cooking twine and add the bundle to the pot. Pour in 6 cups of stock and season with 2 tsp kosher salt and 1/2 tsp ground black pepper, or to taste. Bring the soup to a boil then reduce to simmer 30 min, or until the potatoes are tender and soup has thickened.
Meanwhile, bring another medium pot of salted water to a boil and add the orzo pasta. Cook for 5 minutes, then add the green beans to the same pot. Cook the pasta and beans together 5 minutes more, or until al dente. Strain the pasta and green beans in a fine mesh colander and set aside.
Place the ingredients for the pistou sauce in a small blender or food processor. Pulse until a coarse “pesto like” paste is made. Add more olive oil if it's too thick. Check for seasoning.
When ready to serve the soup, reheat the soup base and then stir in the cooked orzo and green beans to warm through. Add more stock as needed and check for seasoning- remove and discard the herb bundle. Ladle the soup into bowls and top each bowl with a hearty dollop of pistou. Serve with crusty bread. Bon appetit!