We are fortunate to have had numerous guests over the seven summers de Nîmes, although this year only the Rock and Asp Idistra have joined us. Soupe au pistou, a Provençal classic, has become the traditional meal to welcome new arrivals. It involves lots of vegetable preparation, so we get everyone involved, shelling beans and chopping vegetables.
Apparently emotions run high regarding what ingredients are permitted in one’s soupe au pistou. The other night, in a splendid dinner en plein air in La Croix, I was warned off including carrots and encouraged to add the tomatoes only at the end. Our hostess also counselled adding the end of a jambon de pays (prosciutto or Parma ham) from the start.
Below is the recipe which I have found works best. It makes enough for two guest arrivals (i.e. serves about 12 good portions). The ham is this year’s refinement; vegetarians can omit it happily.
For the soup:
A large stockpot with a heavy bottom
Ham hock from jambon de pays: 1
Fresh white shell beans: 1 kg
Fresh borlotti beans: 1 kg
Green beans: 500 g
Courgettes/zucchini (medium): 4 (reserve two)
For the pistou:
1 pot of basil with small leaves (or one very large bunch of big-leaf basil)
garlic: 10 cloves
Gruyère cheese: 200 g
Aged Gouda cheese: 200 g
Olive oil, salt pepper
Well ahead of when you plan to serve the soup, boil the water and throw in the shell beans and add the ham hock.
20 minutes later, add the other vegetables, chopped in small dice. Everything should be the same size as the shell beans. Add the reserved two courgettes whole. Do not add the tomatoes yet, but you should peel them and seed them and chop into small dice as the other veggies.
Cook for about 2.5 hours. Stir up from the bottom occasionally with a wooden spoon smashing the whole courgettes. If after this time they haven’t disintegrated completely you can remove them, and whizz them up with a handheld blender and add the puree back to the soup. At this point season with salt and pepper and add the tomatoes. Cook for another half an hour.
In the meantime, while the soup is cooking, prepare the pistou. The original recipe says to do this in a mortar with a pestle. I prefer a food processor.
Whizz up the garlic. Then add the basil and process. Then add the cheeses, roughly grated. Then tip in the oil until it makes an emulsion. It won’t look like pesto as it will be much more yellow and orange.
If you have a soup tureen, put the soup in one to serve it. Serve the pistou separately and ask each guest to add according to his or her taste. If you are serving this in the evening, be careful with the pistou as raw garlic can keep you awake.
Serve with a rosé — Domaine de la Mordorée Tavel is my suggestion.
You can freeze the leftover soup for the next time a guest arrives.
This recipe is based on the recipe from Recettes en Provence by Andrée Maureau.