Carolyne Kauser-AbbottProvencal RecipesSoupTaste

Soupe au Pistou a Summer Soup from Nice, France

While we often think of soup as a cold-weather dish, some recipes bridge the seasons perfectly. Filled with vegetables and legumes, la soupe au pistou is one such dish. In Nice and traditional Cuisine Nissarde pistou soup is a summer dish. A mix of seasonal vegetables, potatoes and beans cook in a light broth and served with pistou – an uncooked sauce of fresh basil, garlic, olive oil and parmesan. In summer, serve la soupe au pistou with more broth for a lighter meal.

Pistou vs Pesto

While pistou has similar ingredients to Genovese pesto, there is a distinct difference there are no pinenuts in pistou. The Italian version always has seven (7) ingredients: basil, olive oil, pinenuts, parmesan and pecorino cheeses, crushed garlic and salt. Both versions are cold sauces, never cooked as that would change the bright, tangy flavour.

In France, pistou is the name of the sauce and not the basil, which is lou balico in Niçois.  Traditionalists would never use a blender or food processor but make this sauce by hand using a mortar and pestle. So that might also explain the word pistou, which comes from the verb pista and means melanger (to mix), and malaxer (to knead).

With the permission of the Office de Tourisme Métropolitain Nice Côte d’Azur, we have translated the following recipe for pistou soup. Like many soups, there are thousands of variations of la soupe au pistou, and most likely, the one you love most is your mother’s or grandmother’s recipe. The following recipe comes from Carnets de cuisine du Comté de Nice, a cookbook (in French) that you can purchase the book online at Amazon or at the Office de Tourisme Métropolitain Nice Côte d’Azur.


La Soupe au Pistou Nice, France Cuisine Nissarde

Soupe au Pistou

Carnets de cuisine du Comté de Nice
A delicious soup in the middle of summer with lots of broth is surprisingly refreshing. Important: Pistou should never be cooked. It should be added to the soup as a finishing touch for flavouring before serving once the pot is off the heat.
Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 45 minutes
Course Soup
Cuisine Cuisine Nissarde, French, Provencal
Servings 8 people


For the soup:

  • 2 Carrots
  • 1 Turnip
  • 2 Potatoes
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 150 g White and/or Pink Beans white navy beans or cannellini beans *see note
  • 100 g Green Beans
  • 1 sprig of Celery
  • 4 round Zucchini courgettes de Nice
  • 2 Leeks green tops and root cut off
  • 1 medium onion

For the Pistou:

  • 20 fresh Basil Leaves
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 100 g Grated Cheese parmesan or sbrinz
  • 7 to 8 tbsp Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper


To make the soup:

  • Clean your vegetables carefully. Peel the carrots, potatoes and turnip, but leave the skin on the zucchini (courgettes).
  • Shell the beans and soak them if necessary.
  • Cut the carrots, turnips, zucchini and potatoes into small cubes.
  • Boil the tomatoes to peel the skin and then crush them into large pieces.
  • Cut the leeks into thin strips and chop the onion.
  • In a large stockpot dish, cook the leek, onion and a crushed garlic clove in olive oil over low heat.
  • As soon as the onions and leeks become transparent, add all the vegetables except the beans and tomato. Cook for 5 minutes on low heat, stirring as necessary with a wooden spoon.
  • Pour in as much salted water as possible, add the beans and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour.
  • Fifteen minutes before the end of the cooking time, add the tomatoes.

To make the pistou:

  • Use the pestle to crush three garlic cloves in the mortar.
  • Add the chopped basil leaves and continue to grind the mixture. When the garlic and basil are well blended, add the oil and grated parmesan and mix until you have a delicious sauce. If the pistou is too thick, you can add a small amount of hot stock to make it more liquid.
  • When serving, everyone should add a drizzle of raw olive oil before mixing with the pistou. Pour the pistou into the soup once it is off the heat or directly into the bowls. Stir and enjoy immediately.


*The traditional recipe calls for cocos blancs or roses écossés; a white kidney bean is a bit too big. Soak the beans for at least 2 hours before cooking if the beans are dry.
Older families in Nice liked to add 2 oz of macaroni and/or 7 oz of beans.
Add some chopped green cabbage.
Keyword Carrots, Garlic, Soup, Tomatoes
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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Carolyne Kauser-Abbott

With her camera and laptop close at hand, Carolyne has traded in her business suits for the world of freelance writing and blogging. Her first airplane ride at six months of age was her introduction to the exciting world of travel.

While in Provence, Carolyne can be found hiking with friends, riding the hills around the Alpilles or tackling Mont Ventoux. Her attachment to the region resonates in Perfectly Provence this digital magazine that she launched in 2014. This website is an opportunity to explore the best of the Mediterranean lifestyle (food & wine, places to stay, expat stories, books on the region, travel tips, real estate tips and more), through our contributors' articles.

Carolyne writes a food and travel blog Ginger and Nutmeg. Carolyne’s freelance articles can be found in Global Living Magazine, Avenue Magazine and City Palate (Published Travel Articles).

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