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Cooking Up Provence-Recipe for a Pistou 08/14/2012

No meal transports me more to the south of France than a pistou! And as it is August and I am not in Provence, but in the summery cool of Berkeley, I needed a summer fix. So this weekend, I pulled out my copy of Patricia Wells' "At Home in Provence" and turned to her recipe for a vegetable ragout with pistou. This recipe I first prepared when I was staying outside Vaison la Romaine at PR005 L'Olivier . So it brings back many delightful memories.

A pistou is the provencal sauce made of basil, garlic, salt and olive oil that is used as seasoning---often in a vegetable soup. In fact, the word "pistou" often refers to the soup itself. In this case, I made a summer vegetable ragout (not an actual soup) with the pistou as the condiment.

When I prepared it in Provence I asked the owner to help me figure out how to use the food processor in her house. But when she learned that I wanted to use it to chop up and blend the basil, garlic and olive oil, she said, "Oh no! You can't do that. A pistou must be hand ground to be authentic." She explained that the word "pistou" comes from the Provencal word meaning to crush or grind. So I always think of that when I prepare a pistou. (But I do still use the food processor!)

This recipe includes all summer veggies: fava beans, fresh peas, fresh tomatoes, artichokes, asparagus and onions. The only seasoning in the vegetables themselves is a bit of garlic. The vegetables are prepared separately and then mixed together at the end. Once all finished, they look beautiful with the fava beans and asparagus bright green. Served with a dollop of pistou. It is delicious. When served to our friends on Saturday night, they raved and demanded the recipe. So I thought I may as well share it with you, too. Be warned that prepping all the veggies did take us hours, but the actual cooking was brief. The dish is best served immediately so diners can enjoy the pretty colors and the different flavors. Left overnight, colors fade, and flavors blend. Still good, but not as impressive.


4 garlic cloves peeled and minced
fine sea salt to taste
2 cups loosely packed basic leaves
1/2 cup olive oil

Use a mortar and pestle and blend the garlic and salt, then add the basil little by little and at last slowly add the oil drop by drop. Or put it all in a food processor and blend it.

The ragout:
1 medium onion peeled and sliced
6 TBSP olive oil
1 head of garlic, with cloves peeled and left whole
bouquet garnie: thyme and parsley tied with string
two cans artichoke hearts or use 16 small fresh ones
2lbs. fava beans in their pods
3 tomatoes, chopped coarsely
1 1/2 cups white wine
2 lbs. fresh peas in their pods
20 fresh asparagus spears

Veggies prep:
Slice the onions
Shell the beans, blanche them, refresh in cold water and pop the tender beans outside of their skin.
Shell the peas
Slice the asparagus into small pieces, blanche them and refresh in cold water.


Saute the onions, oil, garlic and salt.
Drain the artichokes and add to the pan with the beans, tomatoe and wine and simmer for 10 minutes uncovered.
Add the peas and asparagus. Heat to blend. Remove bouquet garnie. Taste for seasoning.

Serve with a dollop of the pistou. Bon appetit!


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