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
- 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.