This is one of the few non-baked foods I bother to make from the recipe. Most of the time I end up improvising something or other no matter what I'm making. Not in this case, though. Instead, I follow Elizabeth David's version, which she got from a 1926 Eugéne Blancard cookbook. It is worth it. Of course, none of the things Elizabeth David makes are really going to be BAD, but still. You can find the original in French Provincial Cooking, which you should definitely read whether you make the soup or not. It's totally at the library.
Soupe au pistou is clearly one of the delicious gardeny things you make when the yard is starting to overflow into the house and you not only want but in fact NEED to eat it. The fact that my garden is currently confined to a bunch of pots on the windowsill is irrelevant. The end result is completely green-tasting and intense, with a medium-bodied broth and all kinds of interesting chunks to discover. John was all, "this broth tastes like it has meat!" It doesn't actually taste Like meat; it just has complex flavors and actual body. We speculate that this is because of the tomatoes.
It also makes a cubic ton of food, and for maybe five bucks.
Soupe au pistou
pot of cooked white beans
handful of green beans
salt and pepper
thin pasta in the spaghetti/linguine/vermicelli area
You have to do the beans in advance, as you know.
Chop up your onion and stick it in a big soup pot with some olive oil. Let it soften while you deal with the tomatoes. We're going to skin them.
Skinning tomatoes sounds horrific but is in fact easy. You just have to know the trick. Fill a little pot with water and set it on to boil. Then score an x into the bottom of each of your tomatoes. Don't cut deeply, just part the skin. When the water is boiling or nearly, add your tomatoes. Let them sit for a minute or two, making sure to get hot water on all sides. Then fish them out and run cold water over to stop the cooking. The skin will at least have split a little, and may actually be coming off of its own volition. When they're cool enough to touch, peel off the skins with your fingers. Then core them and chop them into dice. See? Totally easy.
Add the tomatoes to the onion and cook together until the tomatoes go liquid. In the meantime, chop your beans into inch pieces, and your zucchini and potatoes into dice. I used red potatoes, but any boiling ones should work fine. Add a pint and a half of water to the pot and bring it to a boil. Then add the vegetables, white beans, and some salt and pepper. I put in a little cayenne too, since I am like that. My white beans were just normal cannellinis. Tthe first time I made this, however, I used tiny pale green flageolet beans. Both work fine, but the flageolets are a little more delicate.
With everything added, the soup ended up maybe an inch below the lip of a 3-quart pot. Be careful and don't let it overflow.
Cover and simmer for maybe ten minutes. Then add a small handful of long pasta of some sort, broken into maybe 2-inch sticks. It's important to use long, thin pasta so it can cook quickly. Cover again and simmer another five minutes, or until the pasta is done.
During the simmer, it's time to make pesto. This one is by far the simplest pesto ever. I didn't even use a mortar, as ours is too small for much besides salt, or a food processor. This was knife pesto. I just washed and de-leaved a couple huge stems of basil, smashed and peeled 5 cloves of garlic, and alternately finely chopped and squashed them all together with the flat of my knife. The whole point is to release the basil oil, so make sure you can smell it easily. Then I transferred the stuff to a bowl, added a couple glugs of olive oil, and mixed/continued to smash it all together with a fork.
When the soup is done, assemble. Take the pot off the heat and add about 2/3 of the pesto. Stir it all together to properly distribute the basil oil goodness. Serve into bowls; garnish with left pesto; continue to garnish with parmesan or romano, if necessary and available.
It is perfect and delicious and does not even need bread.
Since this does make a cubic ton of food, as mentioned, let's talk storage for a minute. Freeze it. Freeze it without any pesto added yet. Just separate things out early and distribute them among containers. That way when you want to eat it you can just smash some more basil into pesto and add it to the reheated soup. If you freeze the basil, you are going to lose all the fresh basil oil that gives this soup its actual taste. So don't do that if you can help it.