I Say Pistou, You Say Pesto Soup (The Cookbook Gods Were Looking Out for Me)

My once-spindly, little squatty basil plants are now goliath, aroma-filled b-u-s-h-e-s! Sitting atop my soup here is a dollop of my garden fresh "pistou". It IS what makes this soup so special. You could quite literally take nearly any favorite fresh veggie summer soup recipe and add this pistou to it and you will have something quite incredible. My basil plants were begging to be shorn of their most edible leaves. And I have to say, I have done literally "nothing" to them. Almost been neglectful of them given that I am so disgusted with the rest of my hidden valley veggie patch. Whatever it is I am not doing, I will continue to not do so as to enjoy the harvest of my most favorite herb of all time for these last few months of it's too short life. Into the soup my basil must go! A pistou was called for. Had I ever made a pistou before? No. . . well, yes. I had made a pesto. Which for all of those as clueless as I was, pistou is the French version of pesto--it's that simple. (I wish I had more interest in exploring French cooking, but beyond catching Julia and Jaques's television escapades on PBS, I have zero interest. Does this make me a culinary lackey?) I'm Almost Fifty, do you think I care?
The basil here is from one plant! One! I have six of these guys scattered throughout my yard. I freeze my basil, too. There is nothing more enticing than pulling a bag of green crinkly basil leaves from the deep freeze in the dead of winter and crushing it over a bowl of pasta or using it in a layered lasagna. Nothing.
I have been craving, not only my typical sweets, but also "comfort" food. Since we are going through one of the most intolerable heat stretches on record, it's a miracle that I even feel the teeniest desire to cook. I've been throwing a lot of sammiches, salads and potatoes together in a pinch. (Even going so far as to serve mashed potatoes for my comfort-fix last week!) And let me add, using my pressure cooker through it all! That thing is a girl's best friend and I have NO regrets spending seventy dollars for it. It has paid its way three-fold since entering our house. Thus, this magical soup from last night was compliments of my PC. And let me add, I used fresh cannellini beans--not pre-soaked, but rapid-pressure cooked--ready for soup entry in less than fifteen minutes. I do a happy dance whenever I see a recipe for "pre-soaking" dried beans because I know that I need only pull Polly-the-Pressure-Cooker out and viola, I have beans! For those of you without the PC, well, you will  have to resort to the pre-soak method, canned beans or boil hard beans quickly, then the longest mile wait for the rest of the soup/beans to meld. 

Let me back up a bit before I go all soup-talk here. Last Friday was the anniversary of my mom's passing. Every year (it's been twelve) on this day, I try to make plans. Like, I try to not sit idle for too long for fear of "losing it". So I begin my day early, head out the door and find something to do that will completely remove me from the memories. (Some may say this is not proper grief management, I say "whatever" to them.) So I went somewhere I find great comfort and distraction: a used book store. I spent almost three hours here paging through the stacks and stacks of wonderful finds. I could have spent another two hours easily.

I don't picture myself with an electronic device for my cookbooks any time soon. Why? How in the world can one take pleasure in a cookbook that doesn't have heft in your own hand, indexes to flip to, photos to long over, dog-eared pages turned down, post-it notes stuck to favorite recipe pages, food stains or requires the cookbook holder for placement on top of the kitchen counter as I read through my ingredient list deciding what I'd use next. I shutter the thought. Thus my day in the books on Friday was quite relaxing. I loved it. (I have a "spa" gift certificate sitting here in a drawer and I suppose if I were the kind of person who took pleasure in other people touching me, that might have been an option, but I take NO pleasure in that whatsoever. None! This certificate of "spa-ness" will most likely expire.)

The picture of the few "book" finds you see above were only the tip of the iecberg. I was on no time schedule so I really got to dig through the piles in front of me. I hit two stores in fact. I have one I LOVE--it's supposedly haunted (well, I really think it is--I've felt "things" when I go in there), the second place is fairly new, but really has books at prices you can't shake a stick at. Take for instance the Fannie Farmer Baking Book--it cost me eight dollars. Eight! What's not to love about that--and oh-by-they-way, I have been pining for a FF cookbook for ages now. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven--this cookbook is going to take me on many baking jouneys. I will relish each moment we share. Then my other AWESOME find: Maida Heatter's Book of Best Dessets Ever! I already own the Best Cookies cookbook by the divine Ms. M--this cookbook demanded it come home with me as well. And I was so lucky to find it--it was ten feet above in the tippy top shelving in the back corner of an area that I know has not seen the light of day for ages. I glanced up (because I have to read every single title of every single book--I am crazy like that and absolutely no fun to go book shopping with for that reason--it can be quite draining on some) but anyway, in this very high up corner I see Maida's name and I am like, HELLO--you are totally coming home with me! Being tall, I was able to gracefully stretch my entire body along the edges of the bottom shelf to the top shelf, hold myself completely against the books and grab the book swiftly allowing it to gently fall into my arms. Again, a book find home run! Then I could NOT not take home the Nancy Silverton cookbook, come on! She is another of those icons in baking. She has a new home here, too. The baking gods were definitely looking out for me.

I just had the best day, I swear. No tears. A few memories of my mom crept in of course--and some years are better than others for me. Like I didn't break down and cry in the middle of a parking lot. (This has happened.) I had enough to keep me busy, to sit down with in the middle of the afternoon, curl up and have a nice cup of tea and read all the wonderful food-ness in front of me. In fact, I am still reading the food-ness. 

So now onto my vegan pistou soup. As you can see, it requires some basil--ha, more like an entire plant! Now, in most of the traditional recipes I've come across for pistou, it also calls for "parmesean cheese". So how easy is that to fix for a vegan? Very easy. I substituted two tablespoons of nutritional yeast and ground up pine nuts in place of that "other" parm. stuff. The vegan cheese problem continues to baffle, but for me--it's "nooch" to the rescue. This soup was not only so aromatic you could smell it a block away, it tasted AMAZING! Mr. Thyme and I relished each spoonful. This will be on our menu tonight as well. The soup recipe calls for some grinding of garlic and salt first. If you don't have a mortar and pestle for this, that's okay, all of the stuff can be managed in a food processor. And once that basil begins to break down, oh-how-sweet-the-day! Again, you don't have any hard and fast rules for this soup--use whatever you have on hand, saute really well, add your beans, a bit of pasta, tomatoes and by all means the pistou and you have yourself a hearty, tasty bowl of yum!

Vegan Pistou Soup

For the soup portion:
1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium onions chopped
3 celery stalks chopped
6-8 garlic cloves minced
2 small russet potatoes diced
1/2 head of cabbage cut into thin shreds
1 zucchini chopped
1 cup fresh spinach leaves
1/2 cup small sized pasta (I used shell shaped)
1 cup dried cannellini beans (soaked or rapid boiled for thirty minutes, then drained and simmered in soup for an hour) or you could use 1 can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
6 cups veggie broth or half water and half broth
1 28 oz. can of whole tomatoes (chopped up)
4 tablespoons pistou (recipe below)
S & P to taste (*be sure to check for salt amount and taste as you go)

Heat oil in a large soup pot and add onion, garlic, potatoes, celery, cabbage, zucchini, spinach and cabbage. Saute for about five minutes. Next, add the beans and tomatoes, pasta and stock. Cover and let simmer for about half an hour over low heat. Check after a half hour to see how your liquid is doing. You may need to add more--just keep an eye on it. (If you used fresh beans, the cooking time for the tenderness of your beans could vary, just keep checking them.)

Vegan Pistou

4-5 cups of fresh basil leaves
5 garlic cloves minced
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

If you have a mortar and pestle, it is really fun and smells amazing to smash the garlic and salt together, then drop a few basil leaves at a time--the smell alone is worth doing this. Then that gets a little boring, so I put everything in the food processor, but my kitchen smelled heavenly! Pulse all the ingredients together until you get a sort-of-but-not-quite paste. You still want some chunkiness--see my pistou on top of the soup for guidance. Serve soup with a generous helping of pistou and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil! Yum! You can keep the leftover pistou for your soup the next day, or make more!



  1. Basil! :) My first crop planted a few months ago did not grow. But I tried again last week and now I have seedlings! I'm so excited to make my own pistou once they have matured. Bravo on the cookbook finds! By the way, I just started reading Zeitoun. I can't put it down.

  2. Hi Jeanne! First, I am sooo glad you picked up that book--the used book store had TWO copies on hand and I was so tempted to take them in hand and demand the customers in the store at the time read it! It is an amazing piece of writing and also very stressful to read. Second, I am thrilled your basil is coming along--I LOVE the stuff!

  3. What a beautiful batch of basil and a great recipe for pistou...and I'm so glad you were able to spend the day doing some of the things that you love. Going to a used book store is by far one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon. I'm sure your mom would be happy to know you had such a peaceful day, filled with good memories and love.

  4. I'll take a bowl, thanks! I haven't had pistou soup in ages, send some over!

  5. Hi Monet! Thanks so much, you are always so kind!

    Hi Mihl! You are too funny!

  6. Hey Kelly, this soup looks and sounds great. I love the addition of the nutritional yeast to the pistou, going to have to try that the next time I make a batch. I have six basil plants that are in need of harvesting.

    Bon appetit!

  7. Yum, this soup sounds so good, and I love that dollop of pesto. That's just delicious and smart!

  8. I always thought the difference was that pistou doesn't have pine nuts.


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