Provençal Soupe au Pistou

Pistou (pesto’s French cousin) is a prized condiment that, here, elevates what would otherwise be a banal vegetable minestrone to a dish with amazing taste and intensity. This version of the recipe is from the Restaurant Galerie des Arcades in Biot, a tiny hilltop hamlet near Antibes on the Côte d’Azur.


The lively pink grapefruit and red fruit notes of a Côtes de Provençe rosé will enhance the freshness and light flavors of this beloved traditional dish; recommended producers include Domaines Ott, Mas de Gourgonnier, and Château Peyrassol. A rosé from the Côtes du Rhône would also work.

  • For the soup
  • 2 cups dried flageolet beans (or white or navy beans)
  • 10 cups water
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 2 zucchini, cubed
  • 2 potatoes, cubed
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • Salt
  • For the pistou
  • 1 large bouquet of basil, stemmed
  • 2 or 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tomato, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • For the garnish
  • Olive oil
  • Parmigiano cheese, grated

To make the soup: Soak the beans overnight in water to cover. Place the beans and soaking liquid in a pan, add more water if necessary to cover, and bring to a boil. Cook for 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Place the celery, zucchini, potato, onion, and salt to taste into a large pot with water to cover, bring to a boil, and let simmer for 1½ hours. Add the drained beans. (Note: Some recipes call for a handful of cooked cubes or crumbles of smoked bacon for extra flavor; add with the beans.)

To make the pistou: Put the basil, garlic, tomato, and olive oil into a blender (yes, in France, blenders are allowed) and chop finely until it becomes a syrupy paste.

To serve, ladle the soup into large soup bowls, then dab a generous spoonful of pistou on top of the soup, stirring it in with a spoon. Drizzle olive oil over each serving and sprinkle grated Parmigiano cheese on top. Serve additional Parmigiano at the table, if desired.

Published on December 17, 2009