Not everyone is familiar with the French pistou. Similar to the Italian pesto, but not identical, it is a delicious crushed basil sauce that originated from the region of Provence in the south of France.
If you are looking for something to add a bit of punch to your meal, something not too ambitious, then this French pistou recipe is for you. It doesn’t take too long to make, and it’s absolutely delicious!
Pistou is a very typical French sauce and provençale concoction in that it is basically a mixture of fresh basil, garlic, and olive oil. Using fresh ingredients and lots of herbs, these are the mainstay principles of French cooking.
Now, you don’t have to grow your own basil and garlic in your garden, like those French traditionalists do (who has the time these days!), but if you do want to avoid artificial ingredients, this homemade pistou recipe is a great alternative to store-bought pesto.
A staple in the south of France, it is often served with fish and vegetables. You don’t just have to stick to pasta, you know. (If you want, here is a scallop and spinach with pesto pasta recipe.) But it can be used on eggs, meat or poultry dishes, or just with a piece of bread.
In the Provençal dialect of Occitan, the word pistou came from the word pistare meaning “crushed” or “pounded”. (Occitan historically used to be the language of the region before French King François I banned all provincial languages in the 16th century. )
Pistou is traditionally made by pounding the ingredients for the sauce in a mortar and pestle, but if you don’t tell anyone that you used a food processor, I won’t either.
Either way, this pistou sauce recipe is so simple and easy to make, you can make a batch ready to serve within 10 minutes. So let’s get to it, shall we? Allons-y!
Difference between Pistou and Pesto
While pesto and pistou sound similar, they are not the same, although it is clear there is a heavy Mediterranean influence in both. The French pistou comes from Provence in the south of France, while the pesto has its origins at the end of the 19th century, in the city of Genoa.
The Italian pesto is made with basil, olive oil, garlic, cheese (parmesan or pecorino) and pine nuts. It sometimes also contains parsley and marjoram. The official version from Genoa that you can buy in a supermarket, is a protected trademark AOP since 2005.
Frequently asked questions
How to use Pistou sauce?
Pistou can serve as a sauce for dishes like pastas, baked chicken, or with a side of steak.
It can be a bit strong for fish dishes as it can overwhelm them, so use in moderation. It is excellent as an accompaniment to baked salmon or tuna.
You can also eat it directly as a topping on a hard bread like baguette for an apéro, or on baked camembert for an appetizer.
What drinks to serve with it?
Pistou sauces obviously have a strong taste of herbs, so a light dry white wine, for example from the Loire wine region, would be ideal. These wines have light floral and wood taste, making them a wonderful counterbalance to the pistou. A dry white wine from Alsace, like a pinot gris would also be very good.
Can you freeze it?
Yes, pistou sauce can easily be kept in a refrigerator. Use virgin olive oil if you intend to freeze it, and do not add any cheese.
Store the pistou sauce in an airtight glass jar, and put it in the freezer immediately after preparing.
In order to defrost, place in the fridge for about a day to let it defrost naturally.
- 2 cloves of crushed garlic
- 9 cl (1/3 cup) of olive oil
- 2 big bouquets of basil leaves, torn into pieces (2 cups)
- pinch of salt and pepper
- (Optional) 1 soup spoon of shredded parmesan
- Wash the basil and peel the garlic.
- Crush the basil and garlic in a mortar with a pestle until it turns into a purée. (Alternatively, put it into a blender.) `
- In a bowl, mix the crushed basil, garlic, and olive oil until you make a smooth sauce.
- Add in the salt, pepper, and (optional) parmesan cheese, as you mix and whisk.
- Set aside once the pistou sauce is smooth and serve when ready.
Adjust the olive oil quantity for a thicker sauce, based on personal preference.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 293Total Fat: 31gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 26gCholesterol: 4mgSodium: 260mgCarbohydrates: 3gFiber: 1gSugar: 0gProtein: 1g
Note: We are not certified nutritionists and these estimates are approximate. Each individual’s dietary needs and restrictions are unique to the individual. You are ultimately responsible for all decisions pertaining to your health. This website is written and produced for informational purposes only.
If you enjoyed that, check out our other classic French recipes that are easy to prepare. Bon appétit and à bientôt !
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