Soupe au Pisto is a soup I might suggest four months from now during the blistering days of summer when basil reaches its zenith, and zucchini and summer squash are collected by the bushel. Those days still seem far away, yet at this week’s market we find an early batch of organic basil grown as a “tunnel crop” inside a covered garden.
The winter root vegetable stash is running low but we still have bright orange carrots and purple-top turnips. With this motley assortment, we can manage to create something easy and special that makes sense this time of year, as well as during the hot months of summer when we will substitute root vegetables with the season’s new crop.
Soupe au Pistou is brilliant in its simplicity. A basic vegetable soup that becomes a revelation with a drizzle of pistou, the Provençal version of pesto without nuts.
While Soupe au Pistou is refreshing in summer, it seems to make even more sense now as the raw garlic in the hot broth combined with the weight of the turnips and carrots offer a warming, even nurturing bowl, that takes the chill out of a rainy Spring day.
Pistou is French for “pounded” and the traditional method of preparation involves grinding the basil and garlic together into a paste with a mortar and pestle. I find a mini chopper does the job quickly and easily and I prefer this texture for the soup over the hand-wrought traditional method, which creates a creamier sauce best suited for pasta (but requiring much more time and effort). A food processor does a fine job, as well but will need to be tended frequently with a spatula to wipe down the sides. The vegetables are simmered in a simple vegetable broth that needs little seasoning as the pistou drenches the soup with heady flavor. I also add white beans for protein, which makes this a terrific weeknight meal.
It is nice to welcome some green into the market and then into our bowls. Soupe au Pistou helps us make sense of the seasons and offers a warm welcome to Spring.
- 1 medium or large onion, peeled and chopped
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 2 turnips, peeled and chopped
- 3-4 carrots, peeled and chopped
- (about 5 cups of root vegetables total)
- 3-4 stalks of thyme
- 6 cups vegetables or chicken broth
- 1 15-oz can or box of white beans (such as cannelloni), drained and rinsed.
- Sea salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 ½-2 firmly packed cups basil leaves, pick through and remove any tough stems.
- 2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
- ¼ cup best-quality olive oil
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Heat the olive oil over medium heat just until hot, add the onion, thyme branches and a large pinch of salt
- Stir occasionally for about 10 minutes until the onion is soft and translucent. (you should hear it softly sizzle in the pan)
- Add the garlic for 30 seconds, stir
- Add the carrots and turnips, occasionally stir over medium heat until the edges of the vegetables are glossy and begin to soften, about 7 minutes.
- Add the broth and white beans and bring just to a boil over high heat. Once soup begins to boil, immediately lower until just simmering (small bubbles) and continue to gently simmer until vegetables are softened, about 30-35 minutes.
- Remove the thyme branches and discard.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- To serve, top with a spoonful of pistou and stir through.
- Add the basil and garlic to the bowl of a mini chopper or food processor, pulse until the garlic and basil are almost a paste, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a silicone spatula and continue until there is an even consistency. Add the olive oil, pulse until it is combined and creates a slurry.
- Remove to a medium bowl and add the parmesan cheese, stir to combine.