I never like to admit it, but I am a bit behind on my veg box. I seem to have been so busy with work and kids and endless things that they need for school before the end on term, that I am constantly pushed for time. This is one of my favourite soups, a French version of the better known Minestrone. I first remember seeing Soupe au Pistou in Marie Claire magazine probably about 30 years ago, when the food writer was a little known guy called Nigel Slater. I can still remember the photos and it looked so simple yet sophisticated.
What is great is, although it takes a little time to make what with all the chopping, it uses up lots of veg. You can be experimental with the ingredients but I piled in heaps of onion, celery, carrots, courgettes and broad beans.
If you too are pushed for time you can buy ready cooked beans and even buy some good quality pesto rather than make your own.
Soupe au Pistou
Try to have all the vegetables diced about the same size, which makes for a nice presentation. Of course, you can vary the vegetables according to what’s available. If you wish to use canned beans, use 1 400g tin on haricot or cannellini beans. For vegans, leave out the Parmesan.
For the soup
1 cup (200g) dried beans (haricot or cannellini) or 400g tin of beans
2 bay leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, peeled and diced, or 4 leeks, cleaned and sliced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or dried oregano
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 medium courgettes, diced
200g shelled broad beans
200g fresh shelled peas (or frozen)
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced or thinly slice
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
100g dried pasta; any small variety will do, such as orzo, vermicelli, elbows, or shells
For the pistou
1 large clove of garlic, peeled
pinch of salt
2 cups (40g) packed fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil
1 small tomato; peeled, seeded, and diced
1 1/2 ounces (45g) Parmesan cheese, grated
Rinse and sort the beans. Soak the beans overnight covered in cold water. The next day, drain the beans and put them in a large saucepan with the bay leaves and enough water to cover the beans. Cook the beans for about an hour, or until tender, adding more water if necessary to keep them immersed. Once cooked, remove the beans from the heat and set aside. Alternatively use 1 tin of canned cannellini or haricot beans.
In a large heavy bottomed saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the onions or leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent. Add the thyme or marjoram, diced carrots, zucchini, garlic, and salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are completely cooked. Add the cooked beans and their liquid, then the peas and pasta, plus 2 2l water. Bring the soup to a boil, and simmer a few minutes until the pasta is cooked. Bring a small pan of water to the boil and boil the broad beans for 1-2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and plunge into cold water to refresh. Slip the broad beans out of their outer shell. When the soup is cooked, check the seasoning and add the broad beans.
While the soup is cooking, make the pistou. Pound the garlic to a paste in a mortar and pestle (or use a food processor) with a generous pinch of salt. Coarsely chop the basil leaves and pound them into the garlic until the mixture is relatively smooth.Drizzle in the olive oil slowly, while pounding, then pound in the tomato and cheese. Taste, and season with more salt if desired.
To serve: Ladle hot soup into bowls and add a generous spoonful of pistou to the centre and swirl gently. Keep extra pistou within reach because you’ll likely want to add more to the soup as you go.
Note: If the soup is too thick, thin it with additional water.