Richard Olney’s Soupe au Pistou

Richard Olney, a native lowan, spent nearly 40 years in the French countryside living a life most Americans dream about. From his rustic perch on a hillside near Toulon, he wrote and edited more than 35 books on food and wine. His most influential book, Simple French Food, was published in 1974 and caused an entire generation of American chefs to reconsider the way they cooked. This recipe from that book, for vegetable soup with pistou—essentially the French version of Italy’s pesto, without nuts—helps explain what all the fuss was about. This soup is thoughtful, unpretentious, and highly adaptable to seasonal produce or the contents of your larder.–The Gourmet Cookbook

LC Pistou (Bless You!) Note

Pesto is dandy. We all know that. But the French have their own p-word: pistou. It starts off very similar to pesto, but it skips those pricey pine nuts and replaces them with  good old-fashioned tomato. Yep, tomato. Go on and mash everything together by hand rather than using a food processor to achieve a more “rustic” consistency.

Richard Olney's Soupe au Pistou Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 40 M
  • 1 H, 10 M
  • Serves 6 (about 12 cups)


  • For the soup
  • 1 celery rib
  • 3 flat-leaf parsley sprigs
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 1 Turkish bay leaf, or 1/2 California bay leaf
  • 10 cups water
  • 3/4 pound potatoes
  • 2 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only), thinly sliced
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 medium carrots, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 3/4 pound butternut or other winter squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 pound fresh white beans in the pod, shelled, or 1 1/2 cups drained cooked white beans, rinsed if canned
  • 6 ounces green beans, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 small zucchini (1/2 pound total), cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 1 cup elbow macaroni
  • For the pistou
  • 4 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves (not packed), preferably with blossoms
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup (about 2 ounces) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 firm but ripe medium tomato, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
  • 1 to 1 1/4 cups olive oil


  • Make the soup
  • 1. Tie together celery, parsley, thyme, and bay leaf with kitchen string to make a bouquet garni. Bring water to a boil in a 5-quart pot.
  • 2. Meanwhile, peel potatoes and quarter lengthwise, then cut crosswise into thin slices. Wash leeks well in a bowl of cold water; lift out and drain. Add potatoes, leeks, onion, carrots, squash, fresh white beans, if using, and bouquet garni to pot and simmer until beans and squash are tender but still hold their shape, about 30 minutes.
  • 3. Add green beans, zucchini, macaroni, and cooked white beans, if using, and simmer until macaroni is just tender, about 15 minutes. Discard bouquet garni.
  • Make the pistou
  • 4. Mash garlic, basil, salt, and pepper to taste in a mortar with a pestle, alternating between pounding and turning with a grinding motion, until mixture forms a paste (or finely chop basil and garlic, then mash in a bowl with salt and pepper, using back of a spoon).
  • 5. Work in enough cheese to make a very stiff paste, then add about one-third of tomato, pounding and grinding (or mashing) it into the paste. Gradually work in remaining cheese and tomato, along with enough olive oil to make a barely fluid paste. Then gradually work in enough additional oil for pistou to become a sauce. (Remember that the oil in the pistou mixture will separate, so you will need to stir it each time before spooning it out.)
  • 6. Serve soup with mortar (or bowl) of pistou on the side, to be added to taste by each person.
Hungry for more? Chow down on these:

Hey, there. Just a reminder that all our content is copyright protected. Like a photo? Please don't use it without our written permission. Like a recipe? Kindly contact the publisher listed above for permission before you post it (that's what we did) and rewrite it in your own words. That's the law, kids. And don't forget to link back to this page, where you found it. Thanks!

Have something to say?

Then tell us. Have a picture you'd like to add to your comment? Send it along. Covet one of those spiffy pictures of yourself to go along with your comment? Get a free Gravatar. And as always, please take a gander at our comment policy before posting.

Rate this recipe!

Have you tried this recipe?
Let us know what you think.