While in Provence, I learned from Patricia Wells that a pistou is a summer vegetable bean soup. One of my fondest memories from her class is how, on the first day, we each grabbed a vegetable from the big pile on her counter and started peeling and chopping. Then everything went into the most enormous copper pot I’ve ever seen. A couple of hours later, we ate this amazing soup.
Keys to a Perfect Summer Vegetable Bean Soup
- Use the freshest vegetables, preferably purchased at a local farmers’ market.
- Chop your vegetables into pieces about the same size as your beans.
- Serve with a dollop of pesto such as 5-Minute Homemade Pesto or Simple Vegan Pesto. You can make it while the soup cooks. You’ll be shocked by how much flavor this adds.
- Sprinkle with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Patricia likes to add in some Gruyère too.
About the Beans
In France, you’ll often see fresh coco rouge (cranberry beans) and coco blanc (white beans). I haven’t had much luck finding them in the U.S., however. If you’re luckier than I am, use the fresh beans. If not, you can use dried beans or canned beans.
For dried beans, place 1/2 pound in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Let them sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour. Drain and proceed with the recipe. Note: If your beans are old, you may need to pre-cook them. Place them in a slow cooker with 6 cups of water. Cook for an hour or two on HIGH, then proceed with the recipe.
For canned beans, rinse and drain 1 can (14-15 ounces). Add them to the summer vegetable bean soup along with the zucchini, tomatoes, and green beans.
When I made this soup at home, I saw what resembled dried cranberry beans in my pantry. After soaking them, I realized they were Christmas lima beans instead! (Hence the comment about old beans above.) I went ahead with the recipe. After more than an hour, my beans still weren’t done. I fished them out of the soup and threw them in my slow cooker. It turned out to be a perfect solution – the beans finally got tender, but the rest of the soup wasn’t overcooked.
Summer Vegetable Bean Soup (Provencal Pistou)
- 2 bay leaves
- Several sprigs of fresh thyme
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 fresh garlic cloves peeled and halved lengthwise
- Sea salt to taste
- 1 pound fresh white and/or cranberry beans in the pod shelled OR 1/2 pound dried beans OR 1 (14-15 ounce) can beans (see note)
- 2 medium leeks white and tender green parts only, scrubbed, quartered, and finely sliced
- 4 medium carrots peeled and diced (see note)
- 1 onion halved and cut into thin half-moons
- 1/2 pound potatoes peeled and cubed
- 5 fresh garlic cloves peeled and quartered
- 2 medium zucchini diced (see note)
- 1 large tomato preferably heirloom, cored, peeled, seeded, and chopped
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1/2 pound green beans trimmed and quartered
- 2 quarts cold water
- 1/2 cup very small pasta such as orzo or ditalini (optional)
- 5-Minute Homemade Pesto or prepared pesto
- Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- Freshly grated Gruyère cheese
- Make a bouquet garni by wrapping the bay leaves and thyme with kitchen twine and tying securely.
- In a large, heavy-bottomed stockpot (at least 6 quarts), combine the olive oil, halved garlic, herb bundle (bouquet garni), and salt. Stir to coat. Sweat over medium-low heat until garlic softens, about 2 minutes. If using fresh or dried, soaked beans, add them now. Stir to coat and cook 1 additional minute.
- Add the leeks, carrots, onions, potatoes, and quartered garlic. Cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes.
- Add the zucchini, tomatoes, tomato paste, green beans, water, and salt to taste. (If you're using canned beans, add them now.) Simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until the beans are tender. (Add more water if the soup gets too thick.)
- If using pasta, add it. Simmer until pasta is cooked (check package directions for time, but usually about 8 minutes).
- Discard bouquet garni.
- Serve with pesto and cheese.