Typically added to a vegetable-rich soup, pistou has had a long history. The Roman poet Virgil described a sauce made by crushing herbs in a mortar with garlic, salt and olive oil. Over time, the sauce morphed into the heady Genovese pesto, which then morphed into pistou in Provence.
Making pistou starts with adding tomatoes and olive oil to basil, garlic and salt, then crushing the mixture in a mortar with a pestle until it’s smooth. (In the Provençal dialect, pistou means “pounded.”) The pistou is then stirred into the soup, amplifying the flavors of both.
In Provence different versions of the soup are often discussed. Traditionally, it includes a homemade broth, fresh white beans, green beans, potatoes and macaroni. Cooks in Provence often vary the pasta too (some use vermicelli). Robert Lalleman, the chef at the esteemed Auberge de Noves in Avignon, enriches his recipe by sautéing pasta in butter before mixing it into the soup.
What follows is a classic recipe for the sauce:
-1 to 1/2 tbsp olive oil
-1 medium onion, thickly sliced
-1 celery stalk, chopped
-1 head fennel, chopped
-1 carrot, chopped
-2 plum tomatoes, quartered
-4 cloves garlic, crushed
-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
-3 sprigs fresh thyme
-1 bay leaf
-1 to 1/2 tbsp olive oil
-1 cup diced onion
-2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
-1/2 cup diced carrot
-1 cup diced celery
-1/2 cup chopped parsley
-1 tbsp minced fresh thyme
-1 to 1/2cups drained and chopped canned plum tomatoes
-2 cans (15 ounces each) white cannelini beans, rinsed and drained
-6 tsp prepared pesto or extra-virgin olive oil
-Peel and finely chop the onion and garlic, then trim and slice the leek. Chop the potatoes, carrots, celery and courgettes, then pick and roughly chop the parsley leaves.
-Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat and sauté the onion, garlic and leek for 5 minutes.
-Add the other chopped ingredients, the bay, green beans and chopped tomatoes. Drain and add the beans. Cover with water, season and simmer until the vegetables are tender.
-Add the pasta and simmer until cooked, adding water if the soup is too thick.
-For the pistou sauce, peel and add the garlic to a pestle and mortar, pick in the basil leaves and add some sea salt. Pound until puréed, then finely grate in the Parmesan and muddle in the extra virgin olive oil to make a paste.
-Serve the soup with a dollop of pistou.
The lively pink grapefruit and red fruit notes of a Côtes de Provençe rosé will enhance the freshness and light flavors of this beloved traditional dish. Perfect pairing with Château Vannières Côtes de Provence rosé!
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