Recipes from Provençe
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By Philippe Broad

Provençal Bean Soup with Basil
Serves 6

Whomever has spent a summer in Provence, in southern France, will have tasted this prince of soups! Originally simple, delicious family fare to savour together the different bean crops as they ripened in the garden, Soupe au Pistou now features on the recipe list of every smart hostess or host for a "dîner entre amis" on a lazy summer evening. There are as many recipes as there are cooks in Provence, but the real secret lies in the "pistou", the wonderful blend of basil, garlic, olive oil, tomato and cheese which gives this dish its personality.

Some purists will say that it is made solely with vegetables, but I must admit the day other Provençal friends told me they added plenty of smoked ham or bacon, I never looked back! Here is a true Provençal recipe which will only bring you compliments. You can choose between the two methods.

Ingredients

For the soup
900 g Smoke-cured ham, bacon or gammon. If using streaky bacon, choose a cut with the least fat possible. (optional)
500 g Fresh haricot beans
500 g Fresh red kidney beans (if unavailable replace with haricot beans)
500 g Large runner beans or large flat green beans
4 Large courgettes (zucchini), diced (but not peeled)
4 Medium-sized potatoes, diced
1 Tomato, skinned and pipped, and cut into pieces
1 Thinly sliced white onion
Salt Pepper from the mill

For the "Pistou"
2 to 4 cloves of garlic (according to taste)
The leaves and tender shoots of 3 sprigs of basil
1 Tomato, skinned and pipped, and cut into pieces
80 g Gruyère finely grated
80 g Matured Dutch cheese finely grated
Olive oil

Preparation
  1. Shell the haricot and kindey beans and prepare and trim the flat green beans into inch-length sticks. Prepare the other vegetables. In a large pan put 2 litres of water to heat. If you have opted for the recipe with smoked ham or bacon, remove the rind from the bacon and cut into 6 or 12 equally-sized portions. Place the rind and the meat into the pan, bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes. Remove any scum.
  1. Add the three varieties of beans and continue to simmer for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. If you have added ham or bacon, take into account the salt which the meat will bring to the preparation. Then add the courgettes, potatoes, onion and tomato and cook for a further 20 minutes. At the end of this period, the soup should be nice and thick.
  1. During this time, pound the garlic and basil leaves and shoots using a mortar and pestle. When thoroughly blended, add the tomato and continue the process, and then add the cheese. Finally, slowly blend in sufficient olive oil to obtain a smooth rich sauce. (This operation can be done in a blender if you prefer).
  1. When you are ready to serve, check the seasoning of the soup and remove the bacon rind. Add the "Pistou" to the soup, mix in thoroughly, and cook gently for another 2 minutes.
Note :

Serve with crusty French bread or rolls, or toasted country bread.

Out of season, when fresh beans are not available, dried beans will work equally well provided they are soaked for the required time (usually overnight). Cooking time will be the same. If large flat green beans are unavailable, you can replace these with normal green beans or "pois gourmands", but reduce their cooking time to about 30 minutes. As a last resort, unflavoured tinned haricot and kidney beans can be used. Cooking time will be about 20 minutes, and if not preserved in brine, their juice can be added to the soup.

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