Put some pistou in your pot

As fall weather approaches, a hearty soup recipe will hit the spot

“I can’t believe it’s fall already,” Colette said the other afternoon as she walked into the house with an armload of firewood. “Brrrr. Where does the time go?”

I was lying on the couch, reading the News & Review’s recent Best of Chico edition and wondering why they didn’t have a category for Best Collection of Italian Loafers (as if there would be any competition!). Miss Marilyn and Mr. Theo were dozing in a small box of sunlight on the floor beside me.

“Oh, sorry,” she said. “I didn’t know you were sleeping.”

I sat up and looked out the window, streaked with rain. Slender, delicate yellow leaves twirled to the sidewalk and street outside. I reminded her to close the door.

“And I suppose you want me to make dinner tonight, too?”

I shrugged. “That would be fine.” I asked her to hand me the remote.

She rolled her eyes, but tossed it onto my lap.

“What about one of your soups or stews?” I scrolled to the Home Shopping Network.

“Sure,” she said. “You gonna make a fire?”

I looked over at the pile of logs. “Uh … I don’t think so. I’m not very good at it. They always go out.”

“You know you can take something for that,” she said. “Supposed to really work. In fact, they say to call your doctor if they last more than four hours.”

“Ha! Very funny,” I said.

She shrugged.

“Your pistou soup?”

She walked into the kitchen. “Oh, all right. If you insist.”

The truth is, Colette loves making her soupe au pistou and is rightfully proud of it. Thick, hearty and fragrant, it’s the perfect dish for these brisk fall evenings, especially with a good Bordeaux, a fresh loaf of a thick-crusted French bread and a light Caesar or iceburg-wedge salad. The following recipe, which she has adapted from Julia Child’s The Way to Cook, serves six to eight—or keeps in the refrigerator, where it just gets better, for leftovers. You can prepare it in less than an hour.

Colette’s Soupe au Pistou

This is a fairly conventional minestrone or vegetable soup, and in fact you can use your own minestrone recipe. What sets this soup apart is the added pistou, the French version of the Italian pesto, the classic basil and garlic paste (both words coming from the word “pestle,” which, traditionally, is used to make it).

For the soup base


4 quarts chicken broth
4 large baking potatoes, cubed
4-5 carrots, chopped
3 leeks, chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 cans garbanzo beans
1/2 lb. fresh green beans
4 zucchini, shredded
1/2 cup Israeli couscous
pinch of saffron sprigs
1/2 teaspoon curry powder

Put saffron to soak in a small glass of warm water. Combine broth, potatoes, carrots, leaks, onion and beans in large stew pot or Dutch oven, and bring to simmer on stove, skimming scum with wooden spoon. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender. Add couscous and zucchini. Stir well.

For the pistou


5 cloves garlic
1 cup fresh basil or 1 1/2 tablespoons dried basil
2 cups fresh parsley
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup olive oil

Although tradition calls for using a mortar and pestle to make the pistou, a food processor works just fine. Add all ingredients and puree. Refrigerate, covered, while soup cooks.

Just before serving, add the water with the saffron. Also, correct for consistency with additional (boiling) water. Add salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste.

Ladle soup into serving bowls, and add a tablespoon of pistou to each bowl.

Notes: 1) Colette recently substituted the couscous with a packaged blend—red lentils, orzo and couscous. Excellent. 2) She likes the red Spanish garlic from the Farmers Market.