I FIRST TASTED THIS DISH when it was cooked for me by my then prospective mother-in-law, a woman with a bit of an Elizabeth David fixation, when I was a vegan. It moved straight into my repertoire of delicious winter dinners, where it has remained ever since.

Essentially, this is a mixed vegetable and white bean soup, more of a stew, really, with some pasta added and served with a basil/garlic ‘pistou’ (the French version of pesto). It’s healthy, wholesome, can be easily made in either vegan or vegetarian versions and pretty cheap.

It’s a good recipe to use up those vegetables that have seen better days from the crisper drawer of the fridge and is good for freezing.

In my humble opinion, if people on the bus/in the lift/in the street aren’t asking where that strong smell of garlic is coming from two or three days after you’ve eaten this, you’ve failed.

If you want a better example of my haphazard method, you won’t find one. I decided to cook this for tea on a whim at lunchtime on a day off work. In a perfect world, I’d have gone out and bought the right veggies, rather than digging out what was in the fridge, and soaked the beans overnight, but…


For the soup:

White beans (Cannallini, Haricot, Great Northern – whatever) – either dried or canned. I used dried Great Northern

Olive oil

Chopped onion

Crushed garlic

A leek would have been nice.

Chopped celery

Diced carrot

Diced capsicum (mine was kind of 50/50 green/red)

Diced potato

Diced zucchini/courgette

Glug of leftover prosecco


Few bay leaves

Some chopped bits of tomato, leftover from breakfast.

1 tin tomatoes (these were mini ones, but chopped or full size ones will be just as good)

Some recipes include chopped fresh parsley, but I didn’t have any, so used a bit of dried thyme instead.


Black pepper.

Small pasta shapes (added 10 minutes before serving) – I used little shells.

For the pistou:

Bunch of fresh basil leaves


Olive oil


Black pepper

Parmesan (or similar) cheese, if desired. This can be incorporated into the pistou or,a swe did, sprinked on top after, using pecorino the first night and walnuts the second. Walnuts work really well if you want to replace the cheese for a vegan.

I notice that Rick Stein adds a tomato to his, but I haven’t. Ponce.

If you’re really pushed, or if basil isn’t cheap and plentiful where you live, then use a jar of shop-bought pesto.

Essentially, what you do is make a veg soup (by cooking down the vegetables in more or less in the order listed above, then adding fluid, whilst cooking the beans (or opening the cans), then add pasta and beans to the soup and adjusting the seasoning…et voila!

You then blend the pistou ingredients into a paste and serve a dollop on each serving.

In my case, I pressure cooked the beans for far too long, so I ended up adding a panful of bean pulp + disengaged husks. Never mind, though – still delicious.


WE EAT A LOT OF GARLIC. I’m old enough and white enough to remember the days when, If someone had had, say, a curry the night before, everyone would comment on the smell. I can still remember how exotic and delightful the taste was when I first used it when I left home and started cooking for myself – we would NEVER have had it at home when I was growing up.

Describing how alien garlic was to the British working class tastebuds would now seem almost unbelievable. I think its absence from British food until relatively recently was due to the Protestant fear of inflaming the passions. I’ve always quite liked the smell on other people, to be honest, and have never really given a shit if I sail around on a garlicy waft myself, or indeed if my passions become inflamed.

Along with flossing my teeth, filling the car with petrol and unloading the dishwasher, I find crushing garlic a bit of a ball-ache. Getting the skins off, chopping, mincing…not a major ball-ache, but just a rather tedious element of cooking, a process I otherwise enjoy greatly.

I own a traditional hinged garlic press, which I never use, because of the large amount of uncrushed garlic which remains inside, making it both inefficient and a pain in the arse to clean. I also own a pestle and mortar, which is good for grinding a few cloves down with salt. Mostly, though, I’d just use my knife to finely chop and/or puree it with a little salt.

Until recently that is, when I saw an advert for this little tool. It’s basically a garlic crushing knuckle duster which makes short work out of garlic crushing, either with salt or without, but also rinses off very easily afterwards. I bought mine from AliExpress for about $6 I think, and have used it regularly ever since. It also easily rinses clean under the tap after use.

A quick bit of internet research tells me that our current unelected head of state doesn’t eat garlic. Although this is probably a generational thing, it also turns out that lizards hate garlic. I’ll leave you to form your own conclusions.