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Soup From Concentrate: Pesto


Unprocessed Pesto

This week’s soup is pesto.  Not one of those new, nouvelle?, pestos like cilantro, dill or mint (oops), but the classic made from fresh basil. This sauce, a paste really, was one of the first things I ever cooked on my own.

Note: I’m not counting that batch of Charlie Brown’s brownies I made in my pre-teens, complete with artificial nuts made from all the improperly mixed dry ingredients.

Making pesto was the first time I truly used a food processor.  I’d inherited an old robocoup from my grandmother and I can safely say I could never have made this concentrated burst of flavors without it.  Knife and spoon?  Mortar and pestle?  No way.  It’s just too dense.  All that basil compressed into such a small space.  It’s as if I’d made a glace (a highly concentrated stock) without having to cook anything.

I’m surprised I haven’t made a pesto soup before because I’ve done everything else with it—hors d’oeuvres, shrimp, lasagna, stuffed beef cutlets, salad dressing. It was always a good strong taste. For years pesto was my go-to food.  I even grew my own.

I learned the secrets of tending basil plants one summer in Valley Village before I’d even considered cooking school.  The result:  4 full harvests of leaves from my plants that season.  The trick, in case you don’t know, is to pull off the buds before they bloom.  Don’t laugh, it was quite a discovery for me.  It kept the stems soft and pliable almost the whole summer.  No blooms meant no going to seed, no woody stems and no anemic leaves.  Just a lot of pesto and tons of Caprese salad.

If you haven’t made fresh pesto before, you might want to bypass the soup the first time through, and enjoy this pesto recipe on a nice pasta.  It’s really good.

I must confess to a fair amount of trepidation as I was pouring all that stock into this delicious green paste.  I thought I would dilute the flavor for sure.  But the problem was more one of consistency. Midway through the cooking, the soup was really thin.  It was still very flavorful. Pesto is, after all, highly concentrated. The soup just didn’t have any body.

My first attempt at thickening the soup involved adding a pint of home-made croutons.  Unfortunately, this made the soup too thick.  It also turned the dish into something of a bread stew. At dinner that night, my wife said it was delicious but that I couldn’t really call it a soup.  As true as that was, I was not ready to regroup and start again.

“It is too a soup, dammit.  You’re wrong.”

Well, I wish I’d said something that clever.  In fact, I said something far more witless and profane.  In front of the kids too.  Nuts.

It was still food, even good food.  It just wasn’t soup.

The next day I started again.  This time I thickened the soup with a cup of pasta.  Much better.  That’s the pesto I know and love, in soup form to boot.

It amazes me that something that I’ve literally beaten to a pulp could be so rich and so resilient.  Good pesto shines through no matter when you serve it or what you serve it with.

I guess that’s a lesson I should take to heart.  Not literally, mind you.  I’m not too keen on getting pulverized by a rotating blade.  The pesto metaphor’s good though.

Start fresh.  Stay strong.  Don’t skimp on the garlic.

Pesto Soup
(serves 4-6)
3½-4 cups basil leaves, firmly packed
4 cloves garlic
¼ cup pine nuts
½ cup parmesan cheese
¼-½ cup olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
4 cups stock
½-1 cup pasta (More pasta=thicker soup. I used penne, but orso would be good too.)

  1. Put basil, garlic, nuts and cheese into the bowl of a food processor.  With the blade turning, drizzle in the olive oil until the ingredients come together in a bright green paste.  Adjust the seasoning to your liking and remove from the food processor.
  2. Combine pesto with the stock, bring to a boil and add pasta.  Continue simmering until pasta is cooked through.
  3. Garnish with parmesan shaved over the surface of the soup.
  4. Serve at room temperature with a nice salad dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette.  Including fresh heirloom tomatoes in the salad would also be a good idea.

Image Credit: Basil, lots and lots of basil.  Photograph found on the Internet from the site of Oregon massage/aroma therapist KG Stiles (

Did you eat paste as a child?  Does pesto bring back those good memories or make you vaguely uncomfortable.  Let me know.  I’ll be reading and responding.

2 Comments to “Soup From Concentrate: Pesto”

  1. Jame says:

    Mmmm, sounds wonderful. Pesto pasta soup. I just got some basil, so this one is on for this week. (The bread version sounds good, too… I love bread salads and bread soups. I hate making croutons, though, so I guess I’ll pass on that.)
    I don’t think I ever ate paste as a kid. Pesto makes my mouth water – paste, however, now THAT makes me feel “vaguely uncomfortable”!

    • pcandres says:

      You didn’t eat paste? I don’t think I did either. But I do remember the smell. I think it’s just a flour mixture anyway so it probably shouldn’t have all that much of a stigma. Nonetheless it probably won’t make its way into the soup blog any time soon.