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Pistou Soup – French vegetable soup (Soupe au Pistou)

18 June 2019 | Last Updated: 16 November 2019

Pistou Soup is a Provencal summer vegetable soup, served with aromatic Pistou – French sauce made with fresh basil, olive oil, garlic, and Parmesan cheese. This is one of the best vegetable soups I’ve ever had. You can easily modify this recipe, by adding any vegetables you have available. Then swirl in the aromatic basil sauce into the soup – amazing!

If you’re looking for more summer French recipes, check out my ratatouille recipe – French summer vegetable stew.

close up shot on a soupe au pistou in a light blue bowl

WHAT IS PISTOU?

Pistou is a French basil sauce, you can call it French pesto. It’s made from fresh basil leaves, garlic, olive oil, and salt. Adding Parmesan cheese is optional. The name of the sauce comes from a French word, which means ‘to pound’, as it’s traditionally prepared with a pestle and mortar. This pistou recipe is based on my Italian basil pesto recipe.
Important is, to add the pistou to the soup just before serving. Cooking the pistou or stirring it into a too-hot soup can ruin fresh basil aroma.

What is the difference between pistou and pesto?

Pistou doesn’t contain any nuts. Some old, traditional French recipes also don’t call for Parmesan cheese.

How to store pistou?

Store the sauce in a tightly closed container. Cover it with a thin layer of olive oil. It will keep up for up to a week in the refrigerator. Pistou sauce can also be frozen.

Other uses for pistou sauce:

You can spoon it over roasted vegetables/chicken/fish, serve with pasta or thin it a little bit with olive oil or water and use it as a salad dressing.

Pistou variations:

  • Instead of basil, you can use parsley. I often made this soup with parsley pistou and it was also delicious and aromatic.
  • On Serious Eats you can even find a recipe for red pistou, which is made either with tomato paste or sun-dried tomatoes!
3 bowls with pistou soup and 1 small bowl with pistou

WHAT GOES IN INTO THE FRENCH VEGETABLE SOUP?

  • Originally, Pistou soup was a simple vegetable soup made with only a couple of ingredients, the most important being: string beans, potatoes, and tomatoes. It was naturally served with pistou, sometimes cheese and small-sized pasta. As the recipe evolved more vegetables were being added: different kinds of beans, leeks, carrots, zucchini, summer squash, onion, peas.
  • Cheese: I included Parmesan cheese into my pistou recipe. But in some regions of France, for example in the Nice area, Emmentaler cheese (Swiss-cheese) or Gruyere are being added directly into the hot soup and stirred until the cheese is melted.
  • Many Soupe au Pistou recipes contain tomatoes. My recipe doesn’t call for it, but feel free to add them if you wish. I would add about 3 medium peeled and chopped tomatoes. When I’ve tried this soup for the first time, there weren’t any tomatoes in it, so this is the version that I prefer.
  • This soup is made with water, not stock. Pistou is aromatic enough to provide amazing flavor.
  • You can cook the beans yourself, instead of adding canned beans. Use the water, in which the beans were cooked as a stock.
  • Traditionally, this is a vegetable soup, but in certain regions, bacon, sausage or ham are also added.
  • This recipe can be easily modified by adding any vegetables that you have on hand. Soup au Pistou can be compared to Italian minestrone and there are many different ways to cook it. Probably each French family has its own recipe!
pistou is being swirled into the vegetable soup

WHAT TO SERVE THE PISTOU SOUP WITH:

  • I really like this soup served with pasta. I added small elbow pasta, but you can also use vermicelli pasta, orzo or broken into smaller pieces spaghetti.
  • Instead of pasta you could add pearl couscous or serve the soup with a piece of sourdough with butter.

STORING AND FREEZING TIPS:

  • This soup will keep up for up to 3-5 days in the fridge. Keep the cooked pasta and pistou separately. Don’t leave the pasta in the soup as it will swell up, become soggy and the soup will be very thick. Some recipes require though, that you stir a part of pesto in the soup and leave it overnight in the fridge for the flavors to blend. I prefer to swirl the pistou directly into the soup, just before serving.
  • This soup freezes well. I like to freeze it in jars (don’t fill the jars up to the top).

HOW TO MAKE PISTOU SOUP – STEP BY STEP:

STEP 1 (photos 1+2): Prepare all the vegetables: cut potatoes into 1-inch / 2.5cm cubes, zucchini into 1/2-inch / 1cm slices or half-moons, carrot into 1/4-inch / 5 mm slices, leek into thin slices, celery stalk into 1/4-inch / 5 mm slices, chop the onion.

STEP 2 (photo 3): In a large pot warm up 2 tablespoons of oil, add the onions, leeks and dried thyme (if you’re using fresh thyme, add the sprigs at the end of cooking the onions, not at the beginning). Cook over low heat for about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

STEP 3 (photo 4): Add another 2 tablespoons of oil to the pot, turn the heat to high and add the zucchini, potatoes, carrots, and celery. Cook for about 3 minutes (do not stir for the first minute!) until some of the vegetables are lightly browned. If you have time you could cook the vegetables in two batches, for more flavor (more vegetables will brown).
STEP 4 (photo 5): Add the onion, leek, and thyme back to the pot and pour over 8 cups water (all vegetables should be covered). Cook over low heat for 15 minutes.
STEP 5 (photo 6): Add the green beans, bring to a boil, simmer for 8 minutes.

STEP 6 (photo 7): Add the green peas and cannellini beans (along with the liquid from the can), simmer for 2 more minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, season the soup with salt and pepper.

STEP 7 (photo 8+9): make the pistou: In a food processor, mix the basil leaves with salt, garlic, and grated Parmesan cheese, until chunky paste forms. Then whisk in thoroughly the olive oil (by hand), or pulse in the food processor on low speed. If you will mix it on high speed, the sauce will be slightly more bitter, than mixed on low speed or by hand.

SERVE: Pour the soup into bowls, add separately cooked pasta and a heaped teaspoon of pistou to each bowl. Stir the pistou into the soup just before serving. Enjoy!

Pistou Soup – French vegetable soup (Soupe au Pistou)

Aromatic vegetable soup served with French pesto sauce (pistou).
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
Servings 6 servings
Calories 470kcal
Author Aleksandra

Ingredients

soup:

  • 4 tablespoons frying oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 leek
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme or a couple sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 lb potatoes 500g
  • 1 medium zucchini 12 oz/350g
  • 2 large carrots
  • 8 cups water 2 liters
  • a handful green beans 7 oz/200g
  • 1 14 fl oz can cannellini beans 400g
  • 1 cup green peas I used frozen, 4.2oz/120g
  • salt and pepper to taste

pistou:

  • 4 cups basil leaves loosely packed, 1.4 oz/40g or 1 big bunch parsley
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese 1.8oz/50g
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

additionally:

  • 2.5 cups small elbow pasta 11oz/300g pasta, or other small-sized pasta, need to be cooked separately!

Instructions

soup:

  • Prepare all the vegetables: cut potatoes into 1-inch / 2.5cm cubes, zucchini into 1/2-inch / 1cm slices or half-moons, carrot into 1/4-inch / 5 mm slices, leek into thin slices, celery stalk into 1/4-inch / 5 mm slices, chop the onion.
  • In a large pot warm up 2 tablespoons of oil, add the onions, leeks and dried thyme (if you’re using fresh thyme, add the sprigs at the end of cooking the onions, not at the beginning). Cook over low heat for about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
  • Add another 2 tablespoons of oil to the pot, turn the heat to high and add the zucchini, potatoes, carrots, and celery. Cook for about 3 minutes (do not stir for the first minute!) until the vegetables are lightly browned.
  • Add the onion, leek, and thyme back to the pot and pour over 8 cups water (all vegetables should be covered). Cook over low heat for 15 minutes.
  • Add the green beans, bring to a boil, simmer for 8 minutes.
  • Add the green peas and cannellini beans (along with the liquid from the can), simmer for 2 more minutes.
  • Remove the pot from the heat, season the soup with salt and pepper.
  • Pour the soup into bowls, add separately cooked pasta and a heaped teaspoon of pistou to each bowl. Stir the pistou into the soup just before serving.

pistou:

  • In a food processor, mix the basil leaves with salt, garlic, and grated Parmesan cheese, until chunky paste forms. Then whisk in thoroughly the olive oil (by hand), or pulse in the food processor on low speed. If you will mix it on high speed, the sauce will be slightly more bitter, than mixed on low speed or by hand.
  • Enjoy!

Notes

– Instead of basil pistou, you can make parsley pistou – also taste great!
– Do not add the pistou directly to the pot with the soup, but stir the pistou into the soup just before serving. This is important, cooking the pistou or stirring it into a too-hot soup can ruin fresh basil aroma.
– You can cook the pasta with the soup (you need to add more water) only if you plan to eat it all right away. If the pasta stays too long in the soup it will become soggy and the soup too thick. I prefer this soup with the pasta cooked separately.
– You can easily modify this recipe, by adding any vegetables you have available.
– Calories count (approximately) = 1 serving (1/6 of the recipe), including pasta and pistou.

Nutrition

Calories: 470kcal
Course Soup
Cuisine French
Keyword French vegetable soup, pistou soup recipe, Soup au Pistou recipe

Did you make this recipe? Let me know how you liked it and give it a star rating in the comments below! You can also add a photo of your creation!

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