Soupe au pistou

Pesto as we know it, a classic combination of basil, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic and olive oil, takes its origins in Genoa, where it is used to flavour soups, pasta dishes and other primi piatti.

Other versions can include parsley, marjoram and other herbs. Walnuts, hazelnuts, or almonds can also replace the pine nuts in some versions.

This provençal version of the green sauce differs from its Italian counterpart by the absence of pine nuts (or any other type of nut) in the making. Cheese and garlic are also optional ingredients, making it more a basil sauce than anything else. I suggest using cheese however.

The combination of fennel, zucchini and green beans, along with the classic basil sauce, is particularly appealing in this dish, and quite memorable.


Soupe au pistou

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 leek, thinly sliced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 bulb fennel, diced
1 small turnip, peeled and diced
1 large handful green beans, cut in thirds
2 medium zucchini, cut in four lengthwise, then sliced
1 can cannellini or borlotti beans, rinsed
4 or 5 leaves escarole or romaine lettuce, chopped
6 cups vegetable broth, approximately
pinch red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup parmesan
1/2 cup olive oil
pinch of salt


  1. In a large pot, cook the onion, carrots, celery, fennel and turnip in the olive oil over medium-low heat until they start to get tender, about 10 minutes. Don’t let them brown.
  2. Add the red pepper flakes, then the green beans, the zucchini and the cannellini or borlotti beans and stir well.
  3. Add just enough broth to cover the vegetables, cover and simmer for about 40 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked through.
  4. Add the chopped lettuce and let it wilt for a few minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, add the basil, parmesan, olive oil and salt to the bowl of a food processor and blitz to combine, adding more olive oil if you wish.
  6. Serve warm with one spoonful of pistou per bowl, plus a drizzle of your finest olive oil.

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