Pistou Soup

This soup will make your taste buds dance for joy. Just pure deliciousness.

The other day I decided to resume my cold-weather habit and baked some french bread. This got me thinking about traditional French soups.

Pistou soup is a vegetable and bean soup in an herbed broth. The name comes from the pistou sauce that is dolloped onto the soup just before serving. Pistou sauce is similar to pesto, except without pine nuts. It has a wonderfully bright garlic flavor. If you love garlic, you'll love this soup!

The keys to making a fabulous pistou soup are: 1) use the freshest ingredients and 2) make the best smelling bouquet garni ever. If you have these two things, you cannot go wrong!

A bouquet garni works similarly to a tea bag. You place your herbs in a cheesecloth and let them steep, flavoring the soup. When the soup is perfectly seasoned (usually toward the end of the cooking process), remove the herbs. This method helps to ensure that the seasoning is even throughout the soup. Use the freshest herbs you can find and trust your nose. When you place the herbs into the cheesecloth, take in a deep whiff. Adjust the proportions of the herbs until you fall in love with the scent.

Seriously. I cannot tell you how delicious this soup is! I can hardly wait to make it again!

A recent couchsurfer gave us a bottle of wine, which is from her home, before she continued on her journey. I just love the label on this wine! It was fruity but not too sweet. A perfect complement for the soup.

Pistou Soup
6-8 servings, inspired by Patricia's Pistou Soup

3 bay leaves
1/4 cup fresh thyme
3 tablespoons fresh rosemary
10 whole peppercorns
10 cloves garlic
2 cups white beans, soaked
1 cup carrot, coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, diced
3 cups red potatoes, diced
1 patty pan squash, de-seeded and diced
3 tablespoons fresh basil, minced
2 tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup olive oil (estimate)
3/4 cup thin spaghetti, broken into 1 inch pieces
parmesan cheese

  1. Soak the dried beans: Place at least 1 cup of dried white beans in a large pot. Cover with 2-3 inches of cold water. Bring to boil. Boil uncovered for about 2 minutes. Cover and remove from heat. Let soak for about 2 hours. When beans are tender, drain the water, and they are now ready to be cooked. Use about 2 cups soaked beans for this recipe.
  2. Make the bouquet garni: place bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, and peppercorns into a square piece of cheesecloth, and tie with a string. 
  3. In a large stockpot, heat 1/4 cup of olive oil over medium-high heat. Crush and coarsely chop 3 garlic cloves. Add garlic, bouquet garni, and salt (to taste - about 1 teaspoon) to the pot. Stir for about 2 minutes, until the garlic is fragrant.
  4. Add the soaked beans and stir to coat in the oil. Cook for about 3 minutes.
  5. Crush and coarsely chop 5 garlic cloves. Add garlic, carrots, onions, and potatoes to the pot. Cook, stirring regularly, over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes. (This step greatly enhances the soup's flavor!)
  6. Pour some boiling water over the tomatoes. Cover and let steam for 5 minutes. Cool the tomatoes by using tongs to hold the tomatoes under cold running water. Remove the skin of each tomato and coarsely chop.
  7. Add squash, tomatoes, tomato paste, 6 cups water, and salt to taste. Simmer gently for 30-60 minutes until the beans are creamy tender. 
  8. Make the pistou sauce: mince the remaining 2 garlic cloves. Using a mortar and pestle (or a small bowl and muddler), add the basil, garlic, and salt to taste and grind into a fine paste. Add a few drops of olive oil to the paste and grind in. Repeat process until the paste is a pesto-like consistency and tastes delicious. Add more olive oil if the garlic flavor is too strong. You will use about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Set aside.
  9. Add the pasta to the soup and simmer until al dente. 
  10. Remove the bouquet garni and taste for seasoning. 
  11. To serve, pour a ladle of soup into a bowl. Top with a small dollop of pistou sauce and with plenty of freshly grated parmesan cheese. Eat with thick-crusted french bread and red wine.

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