Meera Sodha’s vegan recipe for fennel and courgette pistou soup

Pistou, a French olive oil, basil and garlic paste, and pesto are neighbours in flavour. This makes a lot of sense, especially if you see how close Genoa (where pesto originates) and Provence (home of pistou) are on a map. The pistou here gives life and magic to a classic summery soup packed full of the season’s best vegetables. Just a few weeks ago, mid-bowlful at Noble Rot in London, I remember thinking that there was nothing in the world I’d rather be eating.

Fennel and courgette pistou soup
Pine nuts don’t ordinarily feature in a classic pistou, but modern variations tend to contain cheese, which I have substituted here for the nuts. The sauce can stand up by itself, to use as a spread or in pasta, and will keep in the fridge for a week. You’ll need a blender for this dish.

Prep 5 min
Cook 1 hr
Serves 4

80g macaroni
Fine sea salt
Extra-virgin olive oil
40g basil leaves
1 garlic clove, peeled
3 tbsp pine nuts, plus extra to decorate
1 fennel bulb (about 300g)
1 brown onion, peeled
1 medium courgette (about 250g)
500ml vegetable stock, suitable for vegans
250g fresh peas or frozen petit pois

First cook the macaroni: bring a pan of salted water to a boil, drop in the pasta, stir to stop it sticking, then leave to cook for a minute less than the packet instructions suggest. Drain (keep the pan), then drizzle over a little oil, toss to coat and put to one side.

Make the pistou by blending the basil, garlic clove, pine nuts, 75ml of the oil and an eighth of a teaspoon of salt. Scrape into a little bowl and set aside.

Cut off and discard the base and the woody tops from the fennel, reserving the fronds for later, then finely dice the ret of the bulb. Finely dice the onion, too. Put the courgette on a chopping board, trim off the ends (save them for stock) and, 3cm from one end, slice at a sharp angle. Turn the courgette 90 degrees, make another cut in the same way (so you get small angled chunks), and repeat along the length of the courgette.

In a saucepan, heat up three and a half tablespoons of oil over a low heat, then add the fennel and onion, and cook for 20 minutes, until soft, glossy and sweet – stir regularly, especially towards the end of the cooking time, because it may catch otherwise.

Crank up the heat to medium, add the courgette and stock, and cook for about six minutes, until the courgette is tender. Add the peas and cooked macaroni, heat through for about three minutes, then stir in a half-teaspoon of salt and two tablespoons of the pistou.

Ladle the soup into bowls, and add a spoonful more pistou, a spoonful of pine nuts and any reserved fennel fronds to each serving. Drizzle some extra oil around the outer edge of the bowl and eat hot.