Pistou - The great French provincial soup
Chef: Ian Parmenter
The French call this a soup. They are being unduly modest.
Pistou is a supercharged gastronomic scene-stealer. It is a triumph not just because it is a great vegetable soup, but because it’s served with the mixture which gives it its name, a delicious sauce of basil, garlic, egg yolk and olive oil. It is within reach of those of us who are able to acquire fresh basil. For the rest of you - I’m deeply sorry. If you plan to serve it as an entree, you’ll only need a very light main course, perhaps a grilled sardine on a lettuce leaf.
The soup: 2 large onions, sliced in rings; 2 leeks, sliced in rings; 2 carrots, grated; 2 sticks celery, chopped; 2 large potatoes cut into small cubes; 200 gms fresh green beans chopped into bite sized lengths; 200 gms dried beans (haricot, kidney, etc); 5 or 6 cloves garlic crushed; 2 Tbsp olive oil (preferably extra virgin); 200 gms cooked macaroni.
The pistou sauce: 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped; 1 cup chopped fresh basil; 1 egg yolk; 1/2 cup olive oil.
To serve: 100 gms grated gruyere or emmental
To make the soup:
The day before, soak the dried beans in cold water. In a heavy saucepan or stockpot put the 2 Tbsp olive oil. Gently cook the onions, leeks, carrot and celery for five minutes. Add soaked dried beans, green beans, potato pieces and garlic. Cover with water and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Just before serving, season to taste and stir in the macaroni.
To make the Pistou Sauce:
Pound the fresh basil and garlic in a mortar - or blend. Add the egg yolk. Gradually stir in the olive oil, starting a few drops at a time - as you would for mayonnaise. The mixture should thicken. The pistou sauce will go brown if exposed for a long time to air. It sort of rusts. This is not a problem, except that it can look unsightly. The solutions are either to put it in an airtight jar and cover with a thin layer of olive oil or to make up the sauce immediately before serving. The sauce will keep in the refrigerator for several days though because it contains raw egg yolk. I prefer to make it up as I need it.
Put a small dollop of sauce in each bowl, sprinkle in a little grated cheese, pour on a good amount of soup and get everyone to wait a full two minutes, savouring the wonderful aroma, before stirring the mixture up well and eating with tremendous enthusiasm.
Truly, this is one of the world’s great dishes! This recipe featured by Carole Whitelock