Pistou {recipe} – French for “Don’t Come Near Me With That Kickin’ Garlic Breath”

Pistou with Grilled Bread
My culinary heart is in the Mediterranean right now, but it’s not the Mediterrranean that we think of most of the time. Not Italy. Nor Greece. Not even the Middle East-y side of the Mediterranean.

It’s the south of France.

Yes, there is a culinary part of France that has nothing to do with butter and escargot and butter and Boeuf Bourguignon (though I do love all of that). The southern region of France is Mediterranean, with all of the same flavor components as the other more common Mediterranean cuisines — garlic, olive oil, olives, tomatoes, lemon.

And basil.

Which explains the existence of pistou, the French version of Italian pesto. I don’t know why I even call it a French “version,” as it’s the exact same thing, just a different name. It’s like saying “tomate” are the French version of Italian “pomodoro.”


So I’ve been eating pistou all week, much to the dismay of my BF (I had a particularly strong bulb of garlic in the kitchen this week). We made it originally to stir into Soupe au Pistou, but with so much of it leftover, I’ve just been spreading, stirring, adding it to whatever I can. This version is actually slightly different from the Italian one, as it has neither cheese nor pine nuts, though either addition would be fine, I’m sure.

Pistou recipe

We made this to stir into Soupe au Pistou, a super-light, summery vegetable soup from Provence, but pistou is something pretty awesome to just have on hand in small batches at a time as an all-purpose condiment. Awesome sauce, if you will.

makes about 1 cup


1 clove garlic, super finely minced
½ teaspoon sea salt
2 cups fresh basil leaves, torn into smaller pieces
2-4 tablespoons olive oil
optional: ½ – 1 cup each of pine nuts, grated hard cheese like Parmesan, and/or peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes


If you have a mortar and pestle

If you have a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic with the sea salt into a paste. Add the basil and olive oil and pound until smooth.

If you do not have a mortar and pestle

If you don’t have a mortar and pestle (I don’t), sprinkle the salt onto the minced garlic on a cutting board, smash the salt into the garlic with the side or your knife, mince, then repeat until you have a pretty good paste. Scrape the garlic+salt paste into a food processor.

With food processor going at medium-low speed, add the basil a few handfuls at a time, alternating with a few teaspoons of olive oil, to get a thick paste. I actually processed just shy of a paste, as I like it a little more “chunky.”

Store tightly sealed in refrigerator up to one day. The basil turns dark pretty soon after processing.

by Sarah J. Gim on July 28, 2011 · 2 comments

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Yadi @ShopCookMake July 28, 2011 at 7:15 pm

I don’t like pesto by itself, but with the addition of other ingredients (like you suggest in the recipe), I can eat it by the spoonfuls.


Ken Woytisek August 30, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Actually “pesto” and “pistou” are different. Pesto is from Liguria and it made with pine nuts; the French “version” is made without pine nuts. (Even cheese is a later addition and is generally not included in the traditional version of pistou.)


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