Inspired by Soupe au Pistou, classic french soup, made with seasonal vegetables and served with a simple, pesto-like basil sauce. Typically enjoyed as a summer dish, this pistou soup is made with springtime veggies though you can easily enjoy it almost any time of year!
What is Pistou?
Ok so first things first: what is pistou?
To put it simply, it’s kind of like a French, Provençal basil sauce that’s not too dissimilar to an Italian pesto. The main difference is that pesto usually contains pine nuts and cheese while pistou does not.
Pistou Soup Ingredients & Steps
- Extra-virgin olive oil: Warm in a large pot over a medium or medium-low heat.
- Veggies: Add the sliced leeks, celery, garlic and potatoes to the hot oil and sauté about 10 minutes until the veggies start to soften.
- Herbs: (thyme, herbs de Provence, salt and pepper): Add the herbs at the same time as the veggies. If using fresh thyme use about 1 teaspoon thyme leaves, otherwise use about 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme.
- Wine and Veggie Stock: After the veggies have softened up a bit, add the white wine to the pot and bring to a simmer. Use a wooden spoon and the wine to deglaze the bottom of the pan. Scrape up any burnt on or browned bits. Cook about 3-4 minutes until the wine evaporates then add the vegetable stock. (Chicken stock also works if this doesn’t need to be vegetarian).
- Beans: Add the beans when you add the stock. Bring the pot to a simmer and let cook another 10 minutes to soften up the beans and potatoes then use a potato masher or large spoon to mash up some of the potatoes and beans to thicken the soup. Alternatively, you can briefly use a hand blender to blend up the soup as well. Cook another five minutes or s after mashing/blending.
- Lemon Juice & Spinach: Finally, stir in the lemon juice and spinach and cook just a minute or two until the spinach wilts into the soup.
How to Make the Pistou Sauce
Pistou is a French word derived from the Latin word pestare which means ‘to pound’. It’s quite fitting as pistou is traditionally made by adding its ingredients to a large mortar and pounding them into a saucy paste with a pestle.
Many cooking purist might insist the best way and the right way to make any pistou recipe (and pesto) is with a mortar and pestle for maximum flavor and fragrance.
While I do enjoy taking out my frustration by pounding up a bit of garlic and basil in a stone bowl with a big stick, you can absolutely make it in a food processor or blender if you prefer. You’re already make a delicious, homemade vegetable soup and fancy French basil sauce so don’t sweat it!
Variations & Additions
Though Soupe au Pistou is mostly commonly enjoyed as a summer dish made seasonal summer veggies, it’s quite a versatile recipe that you can really make any time of year by switching up some of the veggies.
- Summer variations often contain ripe tomatoes, green beans, zucchini, etc.
- Autumn and Winter variations can include things like root veggies, chopped cabbage, kale, leeks, carrots etc.
This Spring Pistou Soup is quite simple ingredient-wise. I toyed around with the idea of including more Spring veggies like carrots, radish and asparagus. In the end I decided to keep it simple with the ingredient-list.
While the veggie additions are fairly minimal, the flavors here are anything but simple!
More Additions & Substitutions
- Pasta: many pistou soup recipes include pasta cooked into the soup. I decided to omit it in this version as I found it to be quite filling and starchy enough with the potatoes. Feel free to add a cup of dried pasta for even more bulk!
- If you’re using gluten free pasta, I recommend you boil the pasta first then add it to the soup to prevent this from getting too starchy.
- Pistou >> Pesto: Feel free to use your favorite pesto, homemade or store bought! You can really have fun playing with the flavor of this soup depending on the type of pesto you try out. An arugula pesto (aka rocket pesto) will be quite bright and peppery while a sundried tomatoe pesto (pesto rosso) is quite rich and tomatoey.
- Beans: You can easily swap out the cannellini beans for any type of white bean: navy, great nothern – even chickpeas work!
- White Wine >> More Stock/Broth: If you’d prefer to cook with alcohol free ingredients, you can absolutely swap out the wine for more broth or water instead.
This Springtime Pistou Soup makes for a delicious, hearty soup bursting with bright, rich flavors. I like to serve this with a side of something carby to dip into the soup like a piece of of toasted gluten free bread, cheesy scones or even a topped with some herby homemade croutons.
If you end up trying this soup, don’t forget to rate the recipe and leave a comment below! I always appreciate the feedback – especially when you share what changes you may have made. It also helps future readers who are thinking of making the recipe!
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (45 ml)
- 2 large leeks, sliced and washed (white and light green parts only)
- 2 large stalks celery, sliced (about 100g or 1 cup)
- 4 large garlic cloves, sliced
- 2 russet potatoes (about 1 pound) diced
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried leaves
- 1 tablespoon herbs de Provence
- 1/2 teaspoon salt + more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper + more to taste
- 1/2 cup dry white wine (120 ml)
- 5 cups vegetable broth (1.2L)
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice, optional (30 ml)
- 2 (14 oz | 400g) cans cannellini beans, drained (or 3 cups cooked beans)
- 1-2 cloves of garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (80 ml)
- Half a lemon, optional
- Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pot over a medium heat then add the oil when the pot is hot.
- Add the leek, celery, garlic, potato, thyme, herbs de Provence, salt and pepper. Cook about 15 minutes, stirring every so often until the leeks and celery and soft and translucent and the potato tender. If the pot ever starts to feel a little dry, add an extra tablespoon of water.
- Adjust to a medium-high heat. Add the wine. Cook and stir a few minutes to deglaze the bottom of the pan. Cook until the wine has evaporated, about 3-4 minutes.
- Add the vegetable stock and beans. Bring to a simmer over a high heat, then adjust the temperature as needed to maintain the simmer. Cook about 10-12 minutes until the potatoes are fork tender.
- Use the back of a large spoon or a potato masher to mash up some of the potatoes and beans to thicken the soup. Alternatively, you can briefly use a hand blender to blend up the soup as well. Cook another five minutes or so after mashing/blending.
- Turn off the heat. Stir in the spinach and lemon juice (if using) until the spinach wilts into the soup.
- Taste and season as needed. Divide between serving bowls and serve each bowl with a generous dollop of pistou on top and enjoy.
Pistou (Mortar & Pestle)
- Add the garlic and salt to a large mortar. Use the pestle to bash the garlic and salt together to make a mostly smooth, creamy consistency.
- Add the basil leaves to the mortar and keep bashing with the pestle to make a dark green, paste-like sauce.
- Gradually add the olive oil as you bash. Keep adding oil and mixing until you reach your desired consistency. Taste and season with salt as you see fit. Add a squeeze of lemon juice if desired.
Pistou (Food Processor)
- Add garlic, salt and basil leaves to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the mixture a few times to break down the leaves and garlic.
- While the machine is running, drizzle the olive oil into the processor 1 tablespoon at a time. Keep adding the oil to get a sauce-like consistency.
- Taste and season the pistou as you see fit. Add an extra pinch of salt or maybe a squeeze of lemon juice.
- You can substitute the wine for more broth or stock.
- Feel free to use your favorite pesto or pistou sauce in place of the recipe listed here.