Monday, September 5, 2011

Soupe au Pistou (Provencal Vegetable Soup)

Here is the perfect soup for September: warm, and yet packed with the flavors of summer.  It is a vivid yellow in color, thanks to a healthy dose of saffron.  Saffron and chicken broth were just made for each other, and the taste is warm and sunny and just slightly sweet.  It is a delicious vehicle for late summer vegetables, and besides the fresh green beans, you would be wise to toss in zucchini or summer squash.  The pistou is a French pesto -- no pine nuts, just some good olive oil, basil, and garlic with a little tomato to deepen the flavor.  I could really eat that pistou up all by myself, but it is heavenly enough swirled into the soup, and then dolloped on top before serving to warrant some self-restraint.  Also, my jeans have been getting tight recently.

In college, I was a French major, and spent a wonderful six months studying in Provence.  And when I say studying, I mean shopping in open-air markets for the world's freshest produce, drinking kir royale, and train-hopping around Europe when possible.  It was warm and sunny every day and the mangoes were always so ripe that they dripped down my hand when I bit greedily into them.  I had this soup twice, that I remember.  The first time, I confess, was from a box, and was by far the best soup that I've ever had from a box.  The second time I had it was in the most wonderful little seaside town, Cassis, where I had gone to study for my  French poetry class on the beach.  You should only ever study French poetry on the beach.  My friends and had a long lunch in the sun, started with a bottle of white wine and soupe au pistou.  What is it about the feeling of being in the sun all day and then the cool and warming sensation of a fabulous bottle of white wine?  In yoga classes, when they tell me to imagine a relaxing, joyful place, I always think of that moment, on the beach in Cassis, with the sun and the white wine.

And the soup.  Oh the soup.  This recipe is strikingly close, though in Cassis I had it served with topped with croutes and spoonfuls of rouille (which is traditionally the way bouillabaisse is served).  It makes a lovely light supper.  I served it tonight with melon slices, whole grain bread and butter, tiny ice cream sandwiches and a table full of family.  It was a new lovely moment.

Soupe au Pistou (Provencal Vegetable Soup)
serves 8
adapted (slightly) from Barefoot in Paris, by Ina Garten

Ingredients for Soup:
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped (about 1 cup)
3 cups carrots, cut into a 1 1/2 cup dice
3 cups boiling potatoes, unpeeled, cut into a 1 1/2 inch dice
4 shallots, thinly sliced
2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 quarts chicken broth (it is worth it here to use the best chicken broth you have access to)
1 tsp saffron
1/2 lb fresh green beans, ends trimmed, and cut into thirds
4 oz spaghetti (whole wheat is fine) (broken into thirds)

Ingredients for Pistou
1 1/2 cups fresh basil
4 garlic cloves
1/3 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 Tbsp water

1. Heat the two tablespoons of olive oil in a large stockpot over low heat.  When shimmering, add in the chopped onion.  Cook uncovered for ten minutes, until the onion is translucent.
2. Add the carrots, potatoes, shallots, salt, and pepper.  Cook for an additional five minutes.  If you are using a salty broth, adjust the salt accordingly.
3. Add the broth and the saffron.  Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer.  Simmer for 30 minutes.
4. Add the green beans, and then the spaghetti (broken into small pieces).  Cook for an additional 15 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, prepare the pistou by combining and pureeing all of the ingredients in a food processor (I use my small one).
6, Once the pasta is cooked through, remove the soup from the heat.  Swirl 1/4 cup of the pistou into the soup.  Reserve the rest for serving.
7. Serve each bowl of soup topped with a dollop of pistou, and if desired, additional Parmesan cheese.


  1. This soup sounds good to me. Will be on my to do list. Thanks for sharing this simple soup recipe.

  2. Haha I like your version of "studying" abroad. I would have so been doing the same thing. This soup looks awesome!

  3. What a fabulous time in your life. It's great to have such wonderful memories to look back on. This soup looks amazing...I have never made a saffron and chicken soup before.

  4. 6 months in Paris! How envious! I wish I've gone to Paris and other European countries when I was younger. This soup looks really delicious!

  5. Oooh this sounds great! I have never had a pistou before. 6 months in Paris sounds like a blast!