How to cook the perfect soupe au pistou | Felicity Cloake

A festival of summer veg in a bowl, attained irresistible with a garlicky dollop of herby pistou on top

I didn’t get to eat any soupe au pistou while cycling from Marseille to Nice last spring, while experimenting my brand-new journal, One More Croissant For The Road, which is published next week. Perhaps it was a whisker too early for the fresh beans involved, perhaps the dish was just too rustic for the restaurants of the Cote d’Azur, but it shaped me sad, because, as the American gourmand Waverley Root observed, it’s one of the most wonderful soups known to man.

Much like the Italian minestrone, but with its own Gallic peculiarities, it’s the perfect style to showcase the season’s freshest produce. Properly speaking, pistou is the sauce that goes with the soup- closely related, as we shall see, to the more familiar pesto, but with its very own complement of controversies to navigate.

In her forthcoming volume Provence( Octopus ), my friend Caroline Craig describes soupe au pistou, her great aunt Edmee’s department at home, as” a celebration and symphony of summertime veggies “. And, frankly, I couldn’t put it better myself.

The vegetables

Unusually, perhaps, given that this is a vegetable soup, many recipes are fairly laissez-faire when it comes to what to use- supported, as Craig makes clear,” they’re harvested at their optimum sweetness “. Indeed, Root reports that his cook, who hails from Frejus and” shapes the best pistou I have ever tasted”, says that” it does not matter what vegetables you put in pistou, as long as there are plenty of them “.

Perfect soupe au pistou a la Jacques Medecin, comes with a back of controversy thanks to the former mayor of Nice’s colorful reputation. Thumbnails by Felicity Cloake.

Jacques Medecin, the colourful( to set it politely) former mayor of Nice, a convicted criminal and champion of apartheid, courtrooms rather less controversy with the claim in his more palatable cookbook, Cuisine Nicoise, that” there are three absolute musts: tomatoes, courgettes and fresh haricot beans “.( Michel Roux, however, prefers peas and wide-ranging beans toharicot, for reasons best well known to himself. That said, Roux also was applicable to it as a minestrone au pistou- but then he is from Saone-et-Loire, which is a long way from Nice ).

I try squash- according to Richard Olney, the stores in Provence” carry a number of huge, tough-skinned yellow, orange or red-fleshed squashes, all sold in slicings or wedges for use in soap au pistou “. Luckily, so does my local greengrocer, along with peas, potatoes, carrots, turnips, leeks, celery, dark-green and runner beans and swiss chard. I conclude that all are happy adds-on- though the chard tops, in particular, do have a tendency to look rather unappetising after so long in the pan, so I’d protrude them in with the pasta, if they’re what floats your boat.

Medecin’s courgettes and tomatoes seem a pleasingly summery combining at this time of year, the latter endowing the broth simply a intimate of sournes, rather than taking centre stage, while carrot adds sweetness, and athlete beans a agreeably robust texture. Whatever vegetables you go for, take a tip from chef Alex Jackson‘s new journal Sardine, and make sure everything, with certain exceptions of delicate leaves, is soft before you add the liquid:” If you don’t cook the veggies for long enough at this stage ,” he writes,” the soup will lack form and the vegetables will maintain an unwanted crunch .”

Though this is a summer dish, it’s perfectly possible to make it in wintertime, too: Roux shows employing” more root and seasonal vegetables, such as celeriac, jerusalem artichokes, kale etc” instead.

The beans

Although Geraldene Holt’s French Country Kitchen informs me that” some 19 th-century cookbooks omit them altogether”, I’m inclined to agree with Gui Gedda and Marie-Pierre Moine that beans are a must: indeed, the pair explain in their volume Provence Cookery School that” this rustic soup owes its torso and essence to haricot beans “.

Gui Gedda and Marie-Pierre Moine’s soupe au pistou has a powerfully salty, smoky flavour.

The fresh kind most recipes opt be listed in good greengrocers in midsummer, but if not, Olney recommends the dried kind, even if they” never have the finesse of fresh “. His recipe- or rather that of Lulu Peyraud, a friend from the region whose recipes form the bulk of his journal Lulu’s Provencal Table– immerses dehydrated cannellini overnight, then boils them for 15 times before adding them to the soup. This is fine if, like Peyraud, you plan to simmer your soup for more than two hours, but as I shan’t be doing so, I’m going to cook the beans separately, with a clove of garlic and a inlet foliage, as Jackson indicates, and add them, together with any remaining starchy cooking liquid, to the soup when it’s almost done.

White beans are the most common in the recipes I try, but borlotti are likewise used by Craig and others- I find some dried ones in the eastern European section of my local supermarket, and in the healthfood shop, too. Use whichever you prefer, or a mixture, though I’d advise prepare them separately, because they’re likely to soften at different rates.

You could use tinned beans in extremis, but, even though I’m not averse to a shortcut, I find all the ones I try a little bit mushy, even before reheating.

The broth

I’m surprised had found that both Peyraud, and Gedda and Moine, make their soups with a meat base. Peyraud adds a lamb shank to the pan,” whose soft flavour and gelatine reinforce the velvety quality drawn from the squash and the shell beans “; Olney reports her as saying ” the lamb shank is there simply for flavour and texture. With household, I leave it in the soup and anyone who wants to eat the flesh can have it; when I have guests, I remove the meat from the bone, cut it into tiny parts, and return it to the soup .”

Lulu Peyraud adds a lamb shank to the pot, which she says lends the finished dish a velvety texture.

Gedda and Moine go for a ham hock-joint instead, which devotes their soup a powerfully salty, smoky flavor more like a ham soup than a vegetable one. My testers and I feel the sweetness of the lamb runs better with the earthy flavour of the beans, in particular, but all of us favor the simpler soups that allow the veggies to shine.

Roux’s fat-free broth, which starts by infusing sea with onion, herbs and spices, before adding the other members of the veggies to the pan, proves beautifully clear, but absence the richness of recipes such as Craig’s, where the onion base is slowly and patiently cooked down in olive oil until soft and golden, committing the finished broth a yummy richness. This, as well as being careful not to over-dilute the flavors, seems to me to be the secret of a really good soupe au pistou; Jackson describes the desired end result of his recipe as” quite thick-skulled, although there will be enough well-flavoured broth to induce the dish feel soupy “.

The starch

Though you could serve the soup with food instead, pasta shapes it a proper snack in a bowl. Macaroni is the most popular option, though Medecin insists that merely broken up vermicelli will do, while Craig says any small-minded pasta are now working, or indeed a mixture of large and tiny pieces, if you prefer. I also try rice, and find that works very well, if that’s what you happen to have to hand- don’t worry, Medecin died in 2011, so he won’t find out.

Michel Roux’s version is fat-free but not all that rich.

The pistou

Though it’s important to season what M le Maire dubs an” remarkably subtle” broth well- Peyraud also calls for a casual “handful” of coarse sea salt- I don’t think it needs the cayenne pepper, cloves or corsage garni some recipes stick in; for me, it should be a purposely blank canvas for the pistou.

As the identify recommends, this has much in common with pesto, being basil-based, though it generally contains far better garlic and no pine nuts( unless you’re Michel Roux, of course, who can get away with anything in my book ). A simple recipe, yet I to be provided with six most varied sauces- Gedda and Moines call for six garlic cloves to two large handfuls of basil, for example, and Jackson for a mere sixth of a clove for about the same amount of leaves. Feel free to adjust to suit your own savor( and your a blueprint for the rest of the day ). British crybaby that I am, I find simply one clove powerful enough for me.

Peyraud, who also conjures the pistou into the soup itself, doesn’t use cheese, preferring to heap it on top afterwards, but we all decide we favor it pesto-style- and that salty parmesan tasks better than the sweeter gruyere or mimolette recommended as an alternative in some recipes. This is a sauce that should jam-pack some punch.

According to food novelist Caroline Craig, soupe au pistou should be’ a gala and symphony of summertime vegetables ‘.

Many Provencal cooks add fresh tomato as well, which is, of course, never is available in green pesto. As with the soup, this seems to be more for sournes than flavour, so I think it less faff to use a squeezing of lemon, as Craig indicates alongside her tomato. It also keeps the colour pleasingly bright and vibrant.

Medecin’s recipe for pistou is almost as long as his recipe for soup, and contains many forewarns against employing mechanical means to make life easier for yourself, including the plea to” avoid using hand-operated or electric garlic crushers, as they separate the pulp from the juice, thus bungling the appreciation of the garlic. It is encouraging to note those noblest of utensils, pestle and mortar, have recovered their rightful place in the modern kitchen .” Loth as I am to agree with him, I do: unless you’re making a immense quantity of pistou, the texture of the pounded kind is far better than the one I stir in the food processor. Don’t ask me why, but it’s true. Up to you, though.

Alex Jackson’s soup: make sure all the vegetables are soft before you add the liquid, otherwise it runs the risk of having’ an unwelcome crunch ‘.

What does matter, however, is, as Root puts it, that” into this rich mixture of a thick liquid crowded with vegetables you put the pistou … at the very last moment “. This is likely to be stirred in, but I prefer to serve it dolloped on top, which is probably enough to get me chased out of Nice. I’ve got the recipe now, though, so who cares?

Perfect soupe au pistou

Prep 20 min, plus immersing
Cook < strong> 1 hr 25 min
Serves < strong> 4

150 g dehydrated lily-white or borlotti beans ( or 450 g fresh)
1 garlic clove , peeled and squashed with the flat of a knife
1 bay foliage
2 tbsp olive oil
1 big onion , peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves , peeled and finely sliced
1 pinch fresh thyme leaves
1 big tomato
1 carrot , peeled and diced
2 courgettes , diced
150 g athlete or light-green beans , topped, tailed and cut into roughly 2cm lengths
50 g small macaroni, vermicelli or other pasta , clicked into smaller pieces if long
Salt and pepper

For the pistou
1 garlic clove , peeled
1 pinch coarse salt
50 g basil leaves
20 g finely grated parmesan
60 ml extra-virgin olive oil

Soak the dehydrated beans in slew of cold water for about eight hours, then drain and put in a large saucepan with squashed garlic clove and inlet leaf, and cover with fresh water. Bring to a simmer, skim, then simmer for about an hour, or until tender but not falling apart, topping up the ocean as may be necessary, then leave to cool in the cook water.

Heat the petroleum in a large saucepan over a medium-low heat, then fry the onion for 10 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme, and fry gently for another 10 times. Meanwhile, set the tomato in a small bowl of boiling sea for a minute, then peel. After 10 minutes, squash the tomato into the pan utilizing your hands, then fry for 10 minutes.

Fry the onions gently in a little oil for 10 minutes, then add the other chopped veggies and some herbs.

Stir in the carrot and courgettes, and fry for 20 minutes, inciting regularly, until soft but not mushy, then add the cooked( or fresh) beans and any of their remaining cooking liquid( they’ll soak the majority of members of it up ). Top up with just enough cold water to cover the veggies and bring to a boil.

Simmer for five minutes, then add the pasta and simmer gently until cooked.

Read more: https :// meat/ 2019/ jun/ 12/ perfect-soupe-au-pistou-pesto-recipe-felicity-cloake

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