Soupe au Pistou for a Cold January Day

Thursday, January 3, 2008

When I woke up this morning, it was 32 degrees outside. The wind chill factor made it feel like 26 degrees. Temperatures like that are practically unheard of in my neck of the woods. I peeked out from under the covers, trying to muster up the courage to get out of bed and scurry over to turn up the heat. I failed. Luckily, my husband is braver than I am. As I waited for the thermostat to rise a little, I took a mental inventory of what I had to do today. Since the schools are still on Winter Break, I’ve tried to keep my schedule light this week, so that I could be available for chauffeuring kids to the mall, movies, skating rink and various other assorted teen scenes. On this frigid January morning though, there was one thing I decided that I definitely must do – make some soup!
I know that my Canadian friends are probably reading this while groaning and rolling their eyes at me. Yes, a few days of 30+ degree weather here and there can’t compare with what you guys live with for several months of the year. But, give me a break here. I’ve lived in Florida for thirty-four years! I’m not used to this! My blood is thinner than yours! However, I’m sure that we all can agree that there is nothing that beats a steaming hot bowl of soup on a freezing cold and blustery Winter day – wherever you are.
Since I had just been shopping and had a fridge full of fresh vegetables, I chose to make one of my favorite recipes – Soupe au Pistou. Soupe au Pistou is the fancy French version of good old vegetable soup. What sets this soup apart and puts it on a whole other level is that it is served topped with shredded Gruyere cheese and a dollop of basil pesto. Pistou is the French word for pesto. So, Soupe au Pistou = Soup with Pesto. (Don’t I just dazzle you all with my brilliant powers of deduction?) The only difference between French pistou and Italian pesto is that the Italian version traditionally includes pine nuts, whereas the French version does not. .

This recipe was borrowed from Patricia Wells. I came across it years ago while watching her on an episode of Martha Stewart’s old cooking show. For those who don’t know (or those who have been living on Mars for several years), Patricia Wells is a very well-known journalist, food expert and cookbook author who has lived in France since 1980. She is the author of several terrific books, including the Foodie’s travel bible, The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris. She regularly conducts cooking classes at both her Paris studio and her farmhouse in Provence. She is the real deal!
The recipe itself is not very difficult. The most tedious part is the slicing, dicing and chopping all of the vegetables. These days, you can buy all of the vegetables necessary for this dish already pre-sliced, diced and chopped at your local supermarket. You can also use frozen cut green beans. I did that today and you cannot tell in the end product.


If you’re like me, and can’t ever find fresh or dried cranberry beans, you can use canned beans. I can almost always find those in the supermarket. They are sometimes called Roman beans. I just drain and rinse them well, then add them to the pot about fifteen minutes before the soup is ready. Actually, I have made this soup using all canned beans before and it was great. If you don’t have a lot of time, this is also a good shortcut. Just make sure you rinse off all of the goopy stuff.
Pre-made pesto sauce can be used instead of the homemade pistou. If you do use it, get the kind in the refrigerator section of the market, where the fresh pasta is. Mix it with a little freshly grated Parmesan and a drizzle of the best extra virgin olive oil you have. This will really freshen up the flavors and no one will know that it came from a plastic container!
As always, I substituted chicken broth for water to make this soup. You could also use vegetable broth. I just think that doing this adds a lot more flavor.
Soupe au Pistou is a really thick and hearty main dish. Add a fresh tossed salad (with a French vinaigrette, of course) and a crusty baguette and you’re halfway to Provence. Wearing a black beret and listening to Edith Piaf Cd’s are optional!


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Hello and welcome to SGCC! I’m Susan, a professional writer, food columnist, recipe developer, wife, mother, daughter and sister, who used to be a lawyer in a previous life. My love of food comes from a long line of wonderful and creative Italian home cooks who didn’t always have a lot, but knew how to make a lot out of what they had. I hope that you enjoy yourself while you’re here, and visit often! read more >>

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