Soupe au Pistou in Languedoc- Roussillon, France

A window in the village of St Michelle D'Euzet, Languedoc
A window in the village of St Michel D’Euzet, Languedoc

It was a hot September, more than 30 years ago, in that little village in Languedoc- Roussillon in southern¬†France, where I first made this soup. We had rented a 17th century stone house in the centre St Michel d’Euzet, a tiny rural commune surrounded by acres of vineyards. The town consisted of around 500 residents, a basic √©picerie, one bar, a boulangerie, the source of our daily baguette supplies, and a wine co- operative. It was the season of the vendanges or wine harvest: little beaten up orange and red coloured ap√© trucks would arrive all day at the co-op, loaded with red grapes, ready to be machine crushed into the local cheap wine, the vin de pays that kept the locals ( and us) very happy. The narrow streets were stained magenta as lazy wasps buzzed about in the heat and the heady smell of diesel mixed with grape juice filled the air.

Our 17th century stone house in the village of San Michelle D'Euzet. It became the party house.
Our 17th century stone house in the village of San Michel D’Euzet. It became the party house for travelling Australians.

The old stone house included a generous cave, a mezzanine level with a small kitchen, living room and main bedroom, and an upper level with two tiny bedrooms and a small balcony. Along with our family of five, we squeezed in many other travelling Australians during our month there. They slept in the cave, or ground floor cellar/ bike storage area on a mattress on the floor, or in one of the little rooms on the top story.

San Micheelle in Lan
San Michel in Languedoc

The house faced the place de ville and was opposite the town bar, a meeting place for young and old and popular with the local teenagers. Our kids would spend the late afternoon hours there playing¬†football jeu de machine, with the French kids, on a noisy metal soccer machine table. Sometimes, later in the evening, we would hear young French romeos calling out to Rachael from below, ‘Come down Rachael, I lerv you’ as young lads with heavily accented English would practice their courting skills on our 14-year-old daughter.

Soupe au Pistou
Soupe au Pistou

Cooking for nine or more during that idyllic Autumn was based on fresh supplies gathered twice weekly from the nearby markets at Pont Saint Esprit or Bagnols Sur Ceze. At those markets, the elderly farm women taught me about the Coco Rouge ( fresh borlotti beans) and the Coco Blanc ( fresh white haricot beans), often sold a little rotten as the beans were really ripe and faster to cook. Another local village woman sold me mountains of basil each week. I think we lived on Soupe Au Pistou for a month, along with baguette, jam and brie.

 Soupe Au Pistou, Provençal vegetable Soup with Basil Pesto ( Serves 4)

  • EV Olive oil
  • 2 leeks, washed well, and sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 large potato, peeled and diced.
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

Heat some oil in a heavy based soup pot, then sauté these vegetables until tender, then add,

  • fresh borlotti beans (coco rouge), already shelled and cooked till soft
  • 2 small zucchini, diced
  • chopped autumn tomatoes, such as cherry tomatoes, or a can of diced tomatoes, drained.
  • a hand full of green beans, sliced or fresh white beans, coco blanc, if you can get them.
  • 2 litres of home-made vegetable stock.
  • some small pasta, a couple of small handfuls, of shapes such as digitali ( small macaroni) or broken pasta.

Cook until the pasta is al dente, or around 10 minutes.

Season the soup, then add a tablespoon or so of home-made pesto, and stir it through. Serve soup with a dollop of pesto on top and some shaved parmesan cheese.

soupe
Soupe au pistou
Today's garden pick, April, 18, 2016
Today’s garden pick, April, 18, 2016, inspired this soup. Late tomatoes, leeks, zucchini and basil.

The house photos were taken in 2011 when we returned to San Michel d’Euzet. It hadn’t changed at all.

For Andrew, Rachael, Jack, Sunshine, and Poppy- the kids who had a wild time on bikes exploring the Gard region in 1985.

Minestra di Verdure Estive/ Summer Vegetable Soup

I like to eat soups in the height of summer, not necessarily cold soups, but light minestre of vegetables in season. They are thrown together and take around 20 minutes to cook, using whatever is abundant in the garden.

Summertime soup
Summertime soup. Keeping photos real with lots of red slurp.

This vegetable soup is similar to the French Soupe au Pistou in many ways, but I am waiting on the garden’s fresh borlotti, i fagioli scritti,¬†and green beans, before I go down that Proven√ßal path.

Ingredients.

  • 1 onion, finely sliced
  • 1 garlic, finely chopped,
  • 2 tablespoons EV olive oil
  • 4-5 chopped Roma tomatoes
  • 1 medium zucchini, finely sliced
  • 1 can of drained and well rinsed chick peas or white cannellini beans
  • ¬ľ¬†jar of home-made or purchased tomato passata
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • small¬†broken¬†pieces of Mafaldine (flat ribbon) pasta or other dried pasta on hand
  • salt and pepper
  • freshly made pesto from a handful of basil leaves, two cloves garlic, salt, olive oil and pecorino, bashed to a pulp in a mortar and pestle. (Leave the nuts out when serving with soup.)
  • grilled bruschetta to go with¬†the soup.

In a large heavy pot, add a generous slurp of olive oil and gently cook a sliced onion and a chopped garlic until soft but not coloured. Then add the vegetables as listed, stirring each new addition for a minute or so as you go. When they are almost cooked, after around 15 -20 minutes. add the some broken pieces of Mafladine and cook until the pasta is al dente. Season well. Serve in wide bowls with a dollop of freshly made basil pesto.

Paranzo All'aperto.
Pranzo all’aperto. Minestra di verdure estive.

The pasta Mafaldine was named in honour of Princess Mafaldine of Savoy, daughter of King Vittorio Emmanuele 111, and is also known as reginette or “little queens”.

Pesto Imposters.

When is a pesto not a pesto? When its made from every other vegetable on the planet except basil. Some folk argue that any nut, vegetable product, garlic and oil can be processed into a pesto.  Witness artichoke pesto, pumpkin pesto, coriander and cashew pesto, beetroot pesto, mint pesto  and so the list goes on. What is it about this word, pesto, and why is it applied to every paste, dip, condiment and spread on the supermarket shelves and in cookbooks?  Pesto comes from the verb pestare, to pound, as does the pestello, or pestle used to pound it. When we think of pesto, Liguria and Genova come to mind, followed by thoughts of fragrant basil, pine nuts, garlic, and a good parmigiana or pecorino or both. Lets preserve the word for the real thing and use good old English words, such as paste, for the imposters.

A simple pesto recipe for the basil season.

2 Tablespoons pine nuts

4 small garlic cloves, peeled

1/4 teaspoon course sea salt

one large bunch of basil, leaves stripped from stalks

1/2 cup or more of extra virgin olive oil

finely grated parmesan, grana padano parmigiana, around 1/2 cup or more.

Add the first three ingredients to the food processor. Grind to a paste, then add basil leaves. When sufficiently mushed up, add oil slowly to mix while running motor. Add parmigaina to taste by hand. Taste, season, adjust with more oil or cheese.  Serve with pasta, add to arancini, toss with steamed green beans or new potatoes, drizzle over grilled fish.

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