Leave Pesto to the Italians…This luscious French Pistou Sauce Pasta is our reply to the famous Italian dish. It is creamy and so fragrant, and has nothing to envy from its Italian counterpart.
If you don’t know it, the French Pistou is a Provençal sauce made from cloves of garlic, fresh basil, olive oil (and Parmesan, occasionally). It is quite similar to Ligurian pesto, but it omits pine nuts, which makes it most affordable and lets the basil really shine.
Only 4 ingredients, 10 minutes, and incredible flavors… this French Pistou sauce is a must to have in your French repertoire. Traditionally, Pistou sauce is used to garnish the typical Provencal vegetable soup (“Soupe au Pistou” – a recipe you’ll find in my upcoming cookbook), but it makes a terrific sauce in pasta too.
How to make this French Pistou Sauce Pasta recipe
I should start by saying that a traditional French Pistou Sauce should be made in a large Mortar. French purists will tell you that there is only one way to make Pistou – by hand. The ingredients are pureed in the mortar with a pestle until creamy.
However, for the sake of simplicity, using a blender has become more and more common. You can make this recipe both ways (mortar and pestle or blender), the ingredients remain the same.
Although not purely traditional, I like to add Parmesan to my Pistou sauce to add some creaminess. You can choose to include it as well, or skip it.
The recipe begins with fresh basil – ideally freshly picked, or as fresh as you can get. Rinse it thoroughly and separate the leaves from the stems (discard the stems). Tear the leaves by hand into small pieces. I prefer to not use a knife – tearing by hand extracts more flavor from the leaves.
Using a large mortar and pestle or a food processor, pound/pulse the garlic to a paste with the salt. Add the basil leaves and pound/pulse them with the garlic until the mixture is a rough paste. Drizzle in the extra-virgin olive oil, and stir/pulse until combined. Stir in the grated Parmesan (optional). Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Once the sauce is ready, cook the pasta of your choice. (as per instructions on the box). I like tagliatelle pasta, as it coats nicely with the Pistou sauce – but any pasta shape works here. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of Pistou per pasta serving, right before serving.
My cooking tips:
- Choose freshly picked basil – or the freshest you can get.
- Tear the basil with your hands to extract more flavors from the leaves.
- I like to add Parmesan to my Pistou sauce to add some creaminess. You can choose to include it as well, or skip it. With Parmesan, the sauce will be creamier and smoother in taste; without Parmesan it will be more floral and basil-forward.
I hope you love this recipe as much as I do! This Pistou sauce is so fragrant and colorful, and so versatile to use. Like the Italian pesto, Pistou can also be served as an accompaniment to grilled meats, poultry and fish.
You may also like:
- Summer Vegetable Tian Galette
- Frisée with Bacon & Egg (Salade Lyonnaise)
- Herby Sugar-glazed Spring Vegetable Jardiniere
- Kasha Green Bean Potato Salad
- French-style Couscous Salad
Did you make this recipe?
2 cloves garlic, peeled
Pinch of salt, plus more to taste
2 cups (40 g/1 bunch) packed fresh basil leaves, torn/chopped (+ a few extra leaves for garnish)
¼ cup (60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup (50 g) Parmesan, grated (+ extra for garnish)
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Step 1 - Using a large mortar and pestle or a food processor, pound/pulse the garlic to a paste with the salt. Add the basil leaves and pound/pulse them with the garlic until the mixture is a rough paste. Drizzle in the extra-virgin olive oil, and stir/pulse until combined. Stir in the grated Parmesan (if using). Season to taste with salt and black pepper.
Step 2 – Cook pasta of your choice (according to box’s instructions) and add 1 to 2 tablespoons of Pistou per pasta serving. Garnish with a few fresh basil leaves and grated Parmesan, and enjoy immediately.
Keep the Pistou sauce in a sealed jar in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Did you make this recipe?
I’d love to know how it turned out! Please let me know by leaving a comment below, rate the recipe and/or share a photo on Instagram: tag @pardonyourfrench and hashtag it #pardonyourfrench. Bon Appetit!