Vegetables, lamb, garlic, and basil team up in a dish that takes a cue from the garden.
Ever since Chez Panisse opened back in 1971, I’ve tried to get away whenever I can, to visit my friends in Provence and to learn more about the wonderful cooking of southern France. It was there that I met Lulu Peyraud, the proprietor of Domaine Tempier in Bandol, an ancient estate that makes some of my favorite wine in the world. Lulu and her husband, Lucien, gave me a warm-hearted welcome that made me feel as if I had come home to a second family. Whenever I return, I’m always struck by their deep connection to the beautiful corner of France where they live, by their appetite for life and their love for the pleasures of the table—and by Lulu’s inspired cooking.
Lulu shops the way I love to shop—searching for what looks, smells, and feels most alive. And she cooks the way I love to cook— naturally, intuitively, never in haste, always out of love and appreciation for the food and her guests.
CHOOSE THE BEST VEGETABLES THE MARKET (OR GARDEN) OFFERS The summer meal I’m offering here is inspired by Lulu’s philosophy in the kitchen, which has become my own: rely on the freshest fruits and vegetables you can find and on your senses and instincts.
The centerpiece of the meal is soupe au pistou, a magic medley of beans, vegetables, garlic, and lamb. The pistou (the Provençal version of pesto, pronounced pees-TOO) is an aromatic purée of basil, Parmesan, and olive oil, swirled into each bowl of soup just before serving. Preceding the soup are two simple appetizers: coarsely textured olive tapenade toasts and grilled artichokes.
Following the soup, I like to serve a refreshing salad of garden lettuces with baked goat cheese. Finally, for dessert, I always try to serve something that’s light and not too sweet. Baked peach halves stuffed with a mound of nutty filling are just right. The peaches are tender and sweet and bursting with the flavor of Beaumes de Venise, the sweet white wine they bake in.
A menu like this is adaptable to almost any kind of gathering. If you follow the schedule opposite, you can have nearly everything done before the first guest walks in the door. Another bonus is that none of the dishes has to be served at the precise moment it’s ready, so you have leeway in setting the pace of the meal.
This menu was an unqualified success when I served it at a formal dinner last summer, but it is also a delicious way to entertain friends stopping by for a casual afternoon of good food and company. I can recall the hot day when my family and I arrived, sweaty and exhausted, for a visit with Lulu. She greeted us with this nourishing bean soup. Served with a bowl of pistou, it revived me like nothing else.
MAKE THE SOUP IN ADVANCE FOR EVEN BETTER FLAVOR A warm soup might seem like an unusual choice for a summer meal, but its textures and flavors are mesmerizing. The tomatoes and zucchini are the quintessential vegetables of summer, the beans add depth and texture, and the pistou, heady with basil, provides a sharp note of contrast to everything else. It’s a great soup, even on a hot, humid day.
This soup is flexible and forgiving: substitutions are quite acceptable. I use whatever string beans are sweetest and most tender. For the shell beans, I always try to use fresh ones. If they aren’t available, however, substitute dried beans. I suggest zucchini in the recipe, but don’t hesitate to substitute another summer squash that looks fresher. The same goes for the tomatoes. The soup can be made a day or two in advance. In fact, reheating marries the flavors even more. The one ingredient that suffers from repeated reheating is the pasta, so only add it in the very last stage of cooking but not to any of the soup you might be planning to save. The soup will thicken with each reheating, so add some hot water if you want to thin it.