Soupe au Pistou is a vegetarian soup – and vegan if you omit the cheese from the pistou – that is perfect for winter or spring. Let the vegetables that are in season guide you, and use whatever beans you have in the cupboard. It's a choose your own adventure kind of soup from Provençal.
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Spring can be tricky. It teases us. It makes promises of warmth and blossoms. It lets us down with wind and rain, storms or snow. It tests us. How much do we want to put up with? Will it ever be green and colorful again? What do we have to do to get to the other side?
Spring is a life lesson. Because no matter what it puts us through, Spring does come. Flowers bloom, the grass turns green again, leaves return to the trees. We must just keep going until we get there.
But if we let it, Spring can inspire us. Spring reminds us that things can start again. We can reinvent ourselves, plot new goals, shift our outlook. See the endless possibilities of renewal that this world has to offer.
So on those days when Spring tricks you, when you are ready for warm sunshine, but chilly rain is in the forecast, remember that even if it doesn't quite feel like it yet, things are sprouting, things are beginning to take shape.
Spring is a time of growth that isn't always easy to get through. But keep trudging through the rain, because you are strong enough to do this and come out on the other side standing tall and soaking up the sunshine. You can plant your own flowers and watch them grow.
And if you need a little help along the way, make this Soupe au Pistou to keep you going. This healthy vegetable soup is full of bright flavor that will remind you that sunny days are just around the corner.
What is Soupe au Pistou?
Soupe au Pistou (also called Provençal Soup) is a classic French vegetarian soup that has as many variations as your cupboard has crannies. It's made with whatever vegetables are in season, and bulked up with pantry staples like beans and canned tomatoes.
It seems to be one of those recipes that is more of a gesture or a suggestion. An outline waiting to be filled in with your own custom bullet points (just like life!).
In fact, Soupe au Pistou embodies the very thing that Jacqes Pepin refers to when he says you must take a recipe and make it your own each time, according to the ingredients you have, the time of year, the type of pan you use, etc.
This is a very healthy vegetable soup recipe - you don't even use any stock to start it, just water! There aren't a lot of spring soups that are light but still hearty enough to take the chill off.
I was inspired by Julia Child's Soupe au Pistou recipe, but also one from my Buvette cookbook, and one from Anthony Bourdain. I found almost no concensus except that pistou has no nuts of any kind in it. (Julia's pistou has tomato in it!)
More vegetarian soup recipes
How to make Soupe au Pistou
This is just about the easiest easy vegetable soup you're ever going to find. You'll be surprised how much flavor you get without using any kind of stock, and you can use whatever is in the pantry and in season at the market.
I had a can of cannelini beans and a can of black beans, so I used them. I had spinach that needed to be used up, so I threw it in. Start with dried beans if you want. Choose your own adventure.
In a heavy-bottomed soup pot, sauté leeks, onion and carrot in olive oil until they begin to soften. Then add all remaining ingredients except spinach. Simmer until flavors are combined, about an hour. Add spinach about 15 minutes before serving.
How to make pistou
Meanwhile, make the pistou in a food processor. For a small amount like this, I use a mini food processor. Add the basil, cheese and garlic and pulse together, then add the olive oil in batches and pulse until it becomes a paste, or stream it in if you wish.
To make vegan pistou, just eliminate the cheese.
Remove the soup from the heat, serve topped with a big dollop of pistou, a drizzle of olive oil, and a bit more cheese on top.
Can you make soup without stock?
Yes!! This soup starts with water as the base but doesn't sacrifice any flavor. That is one of the things that makes it such a healthy soup recipe. Lower sodium, lower fat.
Try these hearty soup recipes
- Cheesy Potato Soup with Bacon and Beer
- Chicken Pot Pie Soup
- Black Eyed Pea Soup
- Creamy Cauliflower Soup with Brie
Soupe au Pistou
- 4 cups water
- 1 can whole tomatoes 15 ounces
- 2 carrots diced
- 1 onion diced
- 2 leeks white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
- 1 can black beans
- 1 can cannellini beans
- 3 handfuls fresh spinach or one small box frozen cooked
- pinch crushed red pepper
- salt and cracked black pepper to taste
- 2 cups fresh basil
- ½ cup olive oil
- ½ cup Parmigiano cheese or Pecorino
- 1 clove garlic grated on a microplane
- In a heavy-bottomed soup pot, sauté leeks, onion and carrot in olive oil until they begin to soften.
- Then add all ingredients except spinach. Simmer until flavors are combined, about an hour. Add spinach about 15 minutes before serving.
- Remove the soup from the heat, serve topped with a big dollop of pistou, a drizzle of olive oil, and a bit more cheese on top.
- Make the pistou in a food processor. Add the basil, cheese and garlic and pulse together, then add the olive oil in batches and pulse until it becomes a paste, or stream it in if you wish.