When basil plants are bushy and lush, it’s time to make this specialty of France. Pistou (like the Italian pesto) refers to the pestle with which basil is traditionally ground to make the necessary basil-based sauce. This is a quick soup, full of fresh flavors. Omit the shell beans if you have none, as well as the bacon for a vegetarian version. For an extra-meaty soup, add big chunks of browned sausage. Some will want to increase the garlic, or add scallions, young leeks, or a few peeled, chopped, fresh tomatoes.
The pistou recipe here omits the nuts I would toss into the blender if I were making the sauce to serve atop spaghetti. I like to pass the pistou separately, and have each person add a dollop and stir it in, watching the soup turn a striking shade of green.
• 1 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
• 1 clove of garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
• 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
• 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, packed
• 1 cup fresh shell beans, removed from their pods
• 2 ounces slab bacon cut into 1/4-inch cubes, or 2 strips sliced bacon, chopped (or 2 tbsp olive oil for vegetarian version)
• 2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
• 1 large rib of celery, coarsely chopped
• 1/2 pound small young potatoes, unpeeled, cut into chunks
• Two 6- to 7-inch-long zucchini (about 1/2 pound), cut into rounds
• 1/4 pound each green and yellow snap beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
• 1 bay leaf
• 1/4 tsp salt, or to taste
• Freshly ground black pepper
1. Combine the basil leaves, garlic and olive oil in a blender or food processor. Blend just until smooth and well-mixed. Do not over-blend.
2. Scrape into a bowl and add the grated parmesan. Stir until well-mixed. Cover and refrigerate if not using right away. You can also make large amounts, use what you need, and freeze the rest in small, straight-sided jars or ice cube trays.
1. Put the shell beans in a small saucepan with water to cover and simmer until just tender. Drain and set aside.
2. While the beans cook, heat a Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium heat and fry the bacon until browned, then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
3. Fry the onions in the remaining bacon grease (or olive oil) over medium heat, stirring, until translucent. Add the celery, potatoes, zucchini, snap beans, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Add 3 cups of water, or enough to cover, bring to a boil, then cook over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes until vegetables are tender.
4. Add the shell beans and bacon to the soup. Reheat for a minute or two, taste for salt and pepper, and then serve hot, passing the pistou in a bowl for diners to stir in.
Try more hot-weather treats: Read Fresh Summer Recipes: Cooking With Basil, Green Beans and Tomatoes.
Barbara Damrosch farms and whips up creative, fresh summer recipes with her husband, Eliot Coleman, at their Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine. She is the author of The Garden Primer and, with Coleman, of The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook.