by Rachel on June 13, 2010

Pistou - Perfect with Tomato Soup - Up next on this blog

The word Pistou means pounded in the Provencal language.  I know this because I read the Wikipedia write-up on Pistou.  Although my children’s elementary school teachers insist that no one should ever rely on Wikipedia for the explanation/history of anything I’m virtually certain that all adults, including me, secretly use Wikipedia ALL THE TIME (for heck’s sake don’t tell my kids).  Wikipedia goes on to say that traditionally Pistou is a cold sauce that includes garlic, olive oil and fresh basil leaves.  What sets it apart from its more widely known brother Pesto, is that Pistou does not include pine nuts.  Like Pesto, Pistou has a thousand uses.  You can garnish a bowl of soup with Pistou, use it as a spread on sandwiches, or rub it on meat or fish.  If you like garlic and basil (and who doesn’t?) you’ll want to add this simple sauce to your bag of tricks.  The fabulous Chef Anne (she just keeps wandering in and out of this blog, doesn’t she?) makes this particular version, and now I do as well – and you might try it too.  Right?


  • 1 tablespoon crushed garlic
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 ½ cups basil leaves, torn into pieces (2 ounces)
  • ¼ cup coarsely grated plum tomatoes
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup finely grated hard sheep’s milk cheese

Pistou, lovely Pistou

For authentic results, use a large mortar and pestle.  Place the garlic and salt in mortar and pound to a paste.  Add the basil by the handful and grind the leaves against the side of the mortar until almost smooth.  Stir in the tomatoes, then gradually stir in the olive oil until it’s incorporated.  Stir in the cheese and refrigerate until ready to serve.

It’s very helpful to have an energetic 11 year-old around for this process.  My son LOVES smashing everything in the mortar.  Seriously, it’s a very cathartic experience for him, way better than therapy at a fraction of the cost.  We may have to make Pistou once a week.

Gorgeous Basil ready to be SMASHED

In the absence of a mortar, use a small food processor, using the same sequence.  I’ve recently acquired such a large mortar and pestle.  I must admit, they are quite useful tools.  It feels reassuringly basic and earthy to use one.  It makes one want to rush out and buy a scythe, or maybe not.

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