Soupe au Pistou

Most summers I find that growing basil in Britain is not as difficult as is often supposed. Under glass or in a sunny corner or windowsill just a pot or two (treat it like a busy-Lizzie) makes your summer cooking truly evocative of the south. In France two kinds of basil are grown: small-leaved, usually designated for sauces, and large-leaved, which is preferable for salads.

Those who make it know that home-made pesto really brings pasta alive and totally transforms this otherwise plain Provençal bean and vegetable soup. Dried haricot beans are optional – some nineteenth-century cook books omit them altogether. But if possible I like to include fresh white haricot beans, which are in the markets in the south during late July; they are added to the soup with the potatoes. (Fresh white haricot beans are added to hot water, dried white haricot beans are soaked and added to cold water.)

Read more


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 115 g(4 oz) white haricot beans, fresh or, if dried then already soaked and cooked
  • 2 potatoes, diced
  • 1 stick of celery, chopped
  • salt, milled pepper
  • 225 g(8 oz) green haricot beans, cut in short lengths
  • green part of a leek, finely sliced
  • 2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 55 g(2 oz) fine vermicelli


  • 2–3 cloves of garlic
  • a handful of basil leaves
  • 3–4 tablespoons olive oil
  • finely grated Parmesan or Gruyère cheese


Heat the oil in a large pan and soften the onion. Add the white haricot beans, potatoes and celery with about litres(2½–3 pt) water and some salt and pepper. Simmer, covered, for 10–15 minutes.

Now add the green haricot beans, leek, tomatoes and vermicelli and cook for a further 10 minutes. Taste to check the seasoning.

Meanwhile pound the garlic with the basil, gradually adding the olive oil and just a tablespoon or so of the hot liquid from the soup.

Serve the soup in large bowls, spoon in some pistou and sprinkle in some grated Parmesan or Gruyère cheese.