Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Soupe au Pistou aka Pesto Soup

LESLIE: It’s summer time, and the veggies are thick in the garden patch and on the tables at the Farmer’s Market. While we think of soup as winter food, this one – a sort of summer minestrone – is perfect for a July evening.

The recipe is based on one I found in The French Country Table by Laura Washburn, which I found at Book Passage in the Ferry Terminal building in San Francisco. Washburn falls in that long line of modern cookbook authors strongly influenced by Julia Child, though her recipes fall more on the bistro than the gourmet end of the French table. And they always turn out – they look like the photos and are well-written, but that hasn’t stopped me from making a few changes!

Washburn's notes say traditional Provençal cooks insist on Gouda because the soup was invented by Italian workers building the railway above Nice and used the Gouda which was plentiful in the port. Nonetheless, she calls for Gouda or Parmesan, and we’ve used only Parmesan.

In my opinion, canned beans are a pantry staple, though we do choose low-sodium varieties. Like most soups, the flavor improves if you can make this a few hours ahead and let it rest before serving. If not, you’ll still love it—and the leftovers will be terrific!

I’ve included Washburn’s pesto recipe, but will confess I very often use a spoonful or two of commercial pesto. And I didn’t bother blanching and skinning the tomatoes. The ghosts of Julia Child or those Italian railway workers haven’t come to haunt me yet, so I think the substitutions are safe.

Be French or Italian, and serve this with a loaf of crunch country bread and a crisp white wine.

Bon Appetit, as Madame Child would have said, and Madame Washburn would likely agree!

Soupe au pistou

Active prep and cooking time: about 1 hour.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 small fennel bulb, quartered, cored, and chopped
2 zucchini, chopped
8 ounces new or small white potatoes, scrubbed and chopped
2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 quarts vegetable or chicken stock
a sprig of thyme
2 cups (roughly 1-15 ounce can) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups (roughly 1-15 ounce can) kidney beans, drained and rinsed
coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces green beans, cut in 1" pieces
2 ounces spaghetti, broken into pieces
1-1/2 cups grated cheese (aged Gouda or Parmesan)
basil leaves for garnish (optional)
more cheese for garnish (optional)
seasoned croutons for garnish (optional) (I made my own by tossing cubed bread with oil and dried herbs and toasting in the oven about 10 minutes)


4-6 garlic cloves 
½ to 1 cup of fresh basil leaves 
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Heat the oil in a large saucepan or kettle. Add the onion, fennel, and zucchini and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until browned. Add the potatoes, tomatoes, stock, and thyme. Bring to a boil and simmer about 10 minutes.

Add the cannellini and kidney beans and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Add the green beans and spaghetti and simmer about 10 minutes more, until the pasta is tender (al dente). Cover and remove from heat; let stand at least an hour and reheat, or serve at room temperature.

Just before serving, make the pistou. Put garlic, basil, and oil in a small food processor and process until well-blended. Add more oil if needed; you want a fairly thin pistou.

Top each bowl with a spoon of pistou or pesto, a basil leaf or two, and croutons if you’ve got them. Pass the bowl of cheese and enjoy! 

"Budewitz's finely drawn characters, sharp ear for dialogue, and well-paced puzzle make Jewel Bay a destination for every cozy fan." --- Kirkus Reviews

From the cover of AS THE CHRISTMAS COOKIE CRUMBLES, Food Lovers' Village Mystery #5 (Midnight Ink, June 2018, available in trade paper, e-book, and audio):  

In Jewel Bay---Montana's Christmas Village---all is merry and bright. At Murphy’s Mercantile, AKA the Merc, manager Erin Murphy is ringing in the holiday season with food, drink, and a new friend: Merrily Thornton. A local girl gone wrong, Merrily’s turned her life around. But her parents have publicly shunned her, and they nurse a bitterness that chills Erin.

When Merrily goes missing and her boss discovers he’s been robbed, fingers point to Merrily—until she’s found dead, a string of lights around her neck. The clues and danger snowball from there. Can Erin nab the killer—and keep herself in one piece—in time for a special Christmas Eve?

Leslie Budewitz is the author of the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries and the Spice Shop Mysteries—and the first author to win Agatha Awards for both fiction and nonfiction. A past president of Sisters in Crime, she lives in northwest Montana with her husband, a musician and doctor of natural medicine, and their cat, an avid bird-watcher.

Swing by my website and join the mailing list for my seasonal newsletter. And join me on Facebook where I announce lots of giveaways from my cozy writer friends.


  1. I'm in the mood for a luscious vegetable soup and Soupe au Pistou looks like a perfect meal. Thanks for sharing!

  2. OMG, a French cookbook I don't have?! (And isn't the Ferry Terminal amazing? I think I've been to that bookstore.) The recipe is delightfully colorful and I can almost smell the aromas of the soup.

    1. It really is delish. And yes, you and I explored the Terminal building on a break from Bouchercon. I stopped back into the Market for lunch with a SF friend at the end of the con, and think that's when I bought the cookbook.

  3. Do you really think the railway workers would have gone to the bother with the tomatoes? Use roma and skip the headache/work/
    This looks delightfully summer fresh.

    1. LOL -- yes, slipping the skins does seem like a chef-y addition to the recipe, doesn't it?

  4. Looks yummy & pretty. I like all the colors.

  5. Looks amazing. May have to try a take on this one!

    1. Oh, do -- you'll feel so French. Or Italian. :)