pesto and pistou © 2017 theCrackerBoxKitchen. All rights reserved.

A Tale of Two Basil Sauces: Pesto and Pistou

There’s actually not a whole lot of difference between traditional Italian pesto and its French cousin pistou. But it’s still fun to discover a food, even one as simple and familiar as pistou, that you never knew existed. (I searched for the Spanish version of pesto/pistou but came up empty handed.)

I came across pistou for the first time while make Provençal vegetable soup, or soupe au pistou, (which is delightful by the way. But that’s another post.) Pistou is a simplified version of pesto that uses equal amounts of basil leaves and cheese, plus olive oil and garlic. If you’re allergic to nuts, or really like hard cheese, pistou might be just the sauce for you.

A word about cheese: Whether I’m making pesto, pistou, or meatballs, I like to use Pecornio Romano. It’s a cousin of the kitchen staple Parmigiano-Reggiano (parmesan), but in my opinion is far superior. Maybe it’s the sheep’s milk. It’s a little saltier than parmesan, so don’t be tempted to add salt to your pesto/pistou (you’ll see it’s omitted in the recipes below.) If you do decide to use parmesan, either because you can’t find Pecorino Romano or your just hardheaded, please, for the love of Julia Child, buy a fresh block and grate it yourself. None of that powdered stuff in the jar with the shakey-shakey lid. (You know what I’m talking about.)


  • 2 cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 TBS pine nuts*, walnuts, or pecans
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 TBS water
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano

*A note a bout pine nuts: If you haven’t experienced the dreaded “pine mouth”, consider yourself lucky. For those who are afflicted, the symptoms start between 12-48 hours after eating raw pine nuts and cause your mouth, and pretty much any food you eat thereafter, to taste bitter and unappetizing— and worst of all, the symptoms can last for up to two weeks. I had the displeasure of experiencing “pine mouth” a few years ago and haven’t eaten a pine nut since. Read more here, or Google for yourself.



  • 1 cup firmly packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup grated Pecorino Romano
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves


In a food processor, start by chopping the garlic and nuts (if making pesto.)  If you want to take the “bite” out of the raw garlic, you can microwave the cloves for about 10 seconds, or blanch it: skewer the cloves and hold them in boiling water for 45 seconds then rinse under cold water.

Next, add the basil leaves and cheese and give ’em a spin. Follow that up by drizzling in the olive oil with the food processor blade is spinning. A few grinds of black pepper for the pesto and you’re done. Scrape down the sides if necessary.

I like my pesto with penne. You might like farfalle (bow ties) or fusilli (aka rotini or spirals). Toss in some fresh cherry tomatoes and get to eatin!

Pesto/pistou will keep in the refrigerator for several days, but be aware that it will oxidize (get darker), but the taste won’t be affected at all.

If you made a double or triple batch of pesto/pistou, you can freeze by portioning out in to ice cube trays, then transfer to an air tight container and store in the freezer. Nothing like “fresh” summer pesto in the middle of winter!


basil stems in jar of water

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  1. By Cannes restaurants — return visits: Le Pistou | Churchmouse Campanologist 21 August, 2019 at 4:00 PM

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