A traditional Provençal soup that makes the most of fresh summer vegetables and herbs.
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I first made Soupe au Pistou after stumbling upon a recipe by David Lebovitz, and I’ve made it countless times since. It has become my quintessential summer soup: it’s light-bodied, filled with seasonal veggies (the soup will make great use of your CSA!), and topped with a delicious condiment you’ll fall in love with. In case you’re wondering, pistou is the French answer to pesto, with the difference that it usually contains a fresh tomato but no nuts. I say “usually,” because like all traditional recipes, it’s much more complicated than that.
If you’re curious to learn more about the origins of Soupe au Pistou and why it’s so near and dear to the hearts of the French, pick up a fascinating book written by my friend Ann Mah: Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris. Ann has a full chapter dedicated to the recipe, and she tells the story of how she managed to get herself invited to the kitchen of the lady responsible for the Soupe au Pistou festival held in the town of Bonnieux, in Provence, where the soup originates. While chopping hundreds of pounds of vegetables (they were making soup for the whole village!), Ann is schooled by the group of local ladies that first look upon her with suspicion—“What is an American woman doing in our kitchen?”—and then warm up to her curiosity and enthusiasm. It’s a fun story that highlights the importance of culinary traditions.
Now back to my version of the soup: I have to admit that three times out of four, I make this soup using canned cannellini beans, either because I can’t find the fresh beans at the market (fresh cannellini and borlotti beans can be hard to find on this side of the ocean) or because I forgot to soak dried beans overnight. Traditionalists will probably want to throw stones at me for admitting this, but hey, it’s the truth—and if you want to take the same shortcut, you have my blessings. Know, though, that dried beans do offer a much better bite and texture, so they’re totally worth the extra effort. Just set yourself a reminder so you don’t forget the soaking step the day before you plan on making the soup!
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