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.