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Italian Pesto vs. French Pistou

Updated: Aug 21, 2022

Pesto is the Italian recipe for a basil sauce made by combining basil, garlic, olive oil, pignoli (pine) nuts, and parmesan cheese. It’s a perfect sauce for pasta. The nuts and the cheese add texture to the basil and garlic’s flavor and everything combines perfectly with the pasta.

The French version of this is known as Pistou. It is a simpler sauce made from olive oil, basil, and garlic. It is more of a light and easy-to-use basil sauce to add to food. Add it to anything where you want a punch of flavor. In Provence, they make a vegetable soup called Soupe de Pistou. Just before serving they add the pistou to the soup giving it an amazing flavor that perfectly combines with the cooked vegetables.


Makes 3 cups

Prep time: 20 minutes

Total time: 25 minutes


3 or more cups of fresh basil, stems removed (rinsed and dried off with towel)

½ cup of good olive oil

3 to 4 cloves of garlic to taste


  1. Place the basil and garlic in the bowl of your food processor with the metal blade.

  2. Start blending and pour in the olive oil.

  3. Continue blending until the sauce has the consistency of yogurt.

  4. Place in a covered container and refrigerate.


Makes 2 cups

Prep time: 15 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes


2 cups basil (rinsed and dried off with towel)

2 tablespoons pine nuts

3 clove garlic

Olive oil

¾ cup Parmesan cheese; freshly grated is best

½ cup olive oil


  1. Place the basil, garlic, and pine nuts into the bowl of food processor with metal blade and start processing.

  2. While the machine is running, add the oil through the feed tube and continue to blend until the oil is completely absorbed and the mixture is finely minced.

  3. Add the Parmesan cheese to the bowl and process just enough to blend in.

  4. Refrigerate or freeze.

If you want to make pesto the way it was made in Italy before food processors (and still is made this way today because they feel the taste is preferable):

All the ingredients are cut with a very sharp knife so everything is very small and the same size.

All the ingredients are chopped by hand into very small even pieces. When you add the oil, everything combines into a sauce. That texture, as opposed to the emulsion created by the food processor, will separate as you mix it with the pasta, allowing you to taste the individual ingredients, creating a different taste that makes it worth the effort.

Time is the other difference in the two methods. Making the pesto in a food processor is very quick—approximately 20 minutes start to finish. Hand chopping all the ingredients will take about 45 minutes; not bad if you have the time.

Once done, you can refrigerate both the pistou and the pesto in sealable jars but if you want to keep them a long time, pour the mixture into ice cube trays. Once frozen, pop the cubes out of the trays and place them into freezer bags labeled and dated to use all winter.

It’s a wonderful way to add the fresh flavor of summer to your meals.


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