This post may contain affiliate links.
Soupe au Pistou brings the heart of Provence right to your table. A staple of French country cuisine, this soup combines an array of fresh vegetables, with hearty beans and pasta, all simmered in a simple but robust broth. But the real star is the pistou—a vibrant basil-based sauce reminiscent of Italy's pesto but with a uniquely French spin.
On cooler days, it's a warm embrace in a bowl, and during warmer months, it’s a light yet satisfying meal. The balance of vegetables, beans, and pasta ensures a filling dish, while the pistou adds an unexpected and delightful punch of flavor. It's ease and elegance in every bite.
Ingredients You Need to Make Soupe au Pistou
For the Soup
- Olive Oil: Choose a cold-pressed variety for the best flavor.
- Leeks: Select firm leeks with bright green tops and a fresh scent. Make sure to wash thoroughly to remove any hidden dirt between the layers.
- Garlic: Look for tight, firm bulbs with no visible sprouts.
- Carrots: Choose smooth, firm carrots without any soft spots or cracks.
- Yellow Potatoes: Pick potatoes with smooth, unblemished skin and avoid any that have green spots or sprouts.
- Zucchini: Look for smaller, firm zucchini with glossy skin. Larger zucchini can be watery and less flavorful.
- Green Beans: If possible, select haricot verts as they are tender and thin. Be sure they're crisp and free from brown spots.
- Diced Tomatoes: When fresh tomatoes aren't in season, a good quality canned variety works well. Look for one with no added sugar.
- Fresh Thyme: Fresh sprigs should be aromatic and green. If opting for dried, be sure it's still fragrant as it loses potency over time.
- Bay Leaf: Fresh leaves are usually more aromatic, but if you're using dried, be sure they haven't lost their scent.
- Water: Use filtered water if possible.
- Fine Sea Salt: Opt for unrefined versions which can offer a more nuanced flavor.
- Cannelini Beans: If using canned beans, look for cans that list minimal ingredients without added preservatives. For dried, look for beans that are whole and not cracked or shriveled.
- Orzo Pasta: Choose a brand with a rougher surface as it holds onto sauces better. If substituting with another short pasta, be sure to note its cooking time and adjust accordingly.
For the Pistou
- Garlic: As with the soup, go for tight, firm bulbs.
- Fresh Basil: Leaves should be vibrant and free from dark spots or wilting.
- Parmesan Cheese: Choose a well-aged Parmesan for a richer flavor. It should have a hard texture and a rich, nutty aroma.
- Fine Sea Salt: As mentioned above, unrefined versions can offer more flavor.
- Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: Opt for one with a fruity, grassy aroma which complements the basil well.
Origin of Soupe au Pistou
Tracing its roots to the sun-drenched region of Provence in southeastern France, this vegetable soup is often considered a Provençal counterpart to Italy's Minestrone with Pesto. Its name, "Pistou", comes from the Provençal word "pistare", meaning "to pound", a nod to the traditional method of making the basil sauce with a mortar and pestle.
Why Add Pasta?
This version of Soupe au Pistou includes pasta, following the culinary traditions in both Provence and neighboring Italy where chefs often add pasta or rice to their soups. Pasta not only gives the soup a hearty texture and a thicker broth but also historically offered an economical way to extend meals.
- Veggie Variations: Swap out zucchini for yellow squash or add bell peppers for a flavor twist.
- Pasta Alternatives: Try whole wheat pasta, a different short pasta shape or gluten-free varieties if you're avoiding gluten.
- Bean Swap: Substitute cannelini beans with navy or great northern beans for a similar texture.
- Spice it Up: Add a pinch of red pepper flakes or a splash of hot sauce for a mild kick.
- Herbal Options: Replace some or all of the thyme with rosemary or oregano for a different herbal profile.
- Boost the Broth: For a more complex flavor, use vegetable or chicken broth instead of water.
- Pistou Texture: For a chunkier pistou, pulse the ingredients in a blender or food processor briefly, rather than blending until smooth. Or use a mortar and pestle for more control over the finished texture.
Storage and Reheating
Store the soup in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. For longer storage, freeze the soup for up to 3 months. Store the pistou separately, refrigerating it in a sealed container for up to 1 week (cover with a thin layer of olive oil to prevent browning). Before serving, thaw frozen soup overnight in the refrigerator and reheat over medium-low heat on the stove, stirring occasionally.
More Must-Try French Soups
- Tomato Bisque
- Butternut Squash Bisque
- French Onion Soup
- Vegetarian French Onion Soup
- Potato Leek Soup
How to Make Soupe au Pistou
In a large pot over medium heat, sauté leeks in olive oil until soft. Add garlic briefly, then mix in carrots, potatoes, zucchini, green beans, tomatoes, thyme, bay leaf, water, and salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer until veggies are tender, about 30-45 minutes. Incorporate beans and pasta, continuing to simmer until pasta softens. Adjust seasoning, discarding the bay leaf.
For the pistou, while the soup simmers, mince garlic in a food processor. Add basil, parmesan, and salt, processing until finely chopped. Gradually add olive oil until well combined. Adjust seasoning and transfer to a serving bowl. Serve the soup in bowls, crowned with a generous dollop of pistou.
Soupe au Pistou
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 3 medium leeks trimmed and thinly sliced (or 1 large yellow onion)
- 4 large cloves garlic finely chopped
- 2 medium carrots diced (peeled if desired)
- 2 medium yellow potatoes diced
- 2 medium zucchini diced
- 12 ounces fresh green beans (12 ounces) ideally haricot verts, trimmed and cut crosswise into 1 ½ inch pieces
- 14 ½ ounces diced tomatoes with liquid
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 large bay leaf or 2 small (dried or fresh)
- 8 cups water or more, enough to cover vegetables (see recipe note #1)
- 1 ½ teaspoons fine sea salt plus more to taste (see recipe note #2)
- 29 ounces cannelini beans drained (see recipe note #3)
- 1 cup dry orzo pasta or other short, dry pasta
For the Pistou:
- 1 large clove garlic
- 2 oz fresh basil leaves ~2 packed cups
- ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt plus more to taste
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
For the Soup
- Heat olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat; add leeks and cook and stir until tender and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic; cook and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add carrots, potatoes, zucchini, green beans, tomatoes with liquid, thyme leaves, bay leaf, water and salt; stir to combine. Being to boil, then reduce heat and simmer 30 to 45 minutes, until vegetables reach your desired tenderness.
- Stir in cooked beans and pasta; simmer 10 to 12 minutes more until pasta is tender. Remove the bay leaf and taste for seasoning; add more salt as desired.
For the Pistou
- Meanwhile, make the pistou: with food processor running add garlic clove through the chute to mince. Add basil, parmesan cheese and salt; process until minced. With food processor running, drizzle in olive oil in a steady stream and process until combined. Taste for seasoning and add more salt as desired. (recipe note #3)Transfer pistou to a small bowl for serving. (recipe note #4)
- Ladle soup into bowls, topping each with a large scoop of pistou and serve.
- This makes a very thick soup - particularly any leftovers that spend a night or longer in the refrigerator. Add water (or broth if you prefer) and additional seasoning if you like, to achieve your desired texture and flavor.
- When adding salt, remember that the pistou you'll add to finish each bowl is also salty.
- Instead of canned beans, you can use 3 cups of dry beans that you've cooked yourself (here's how to do it easily in a slow cooker). Or, even better, fresh shell beans. You'll need 2 pounds for this recipe. Once you remove the fresh beans from the pod, cover with enough water just to cover, bring to boil and add a generous pinch of salt. Reduce heat and simmer 25-30 minutes until just tender. Remove from heat. Drain before adding to the soup.
- Or combine ingredients with a mortar and pestle.
- If making the pistou well in advance, add to an airtight container. Smooth the top and cover with a thin layer of olive oil to protect the color. Then cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week.