Pistou or Pesto?

November 16, 2020  |  By Peg Kern
Filed Under

Ingredients for a classic pistou from Provence.What is pistou, how is it made, and is it different than pesto?

Pistou is derived from the more known Ligurian pesto, but it is made without nuts. A cold condiment made of crushed or chopped basil and garlic mixed with olive oil, often with a hard cheese such as parmesan, pistou is a popular part of Provencal cuisine.

Browse our culinary tours of Provence.

A culinary vacation in Provence will surely introduce you to this tasty ingredient. Unlike the Genovese pesto, it is not usually used as a topping for pasta in Provence, but rather as a condiment for soups. The classic Provence soupe au pistou is a vegetable soup very similar to the Italian minestrone with a dollop of pistou served on top. It makes a perfect lunch on a Provence culinary vacation or a food tour in France.

Soupe au pistou from a Provence food tours with TIK.My kids love pistou, and it makes them more likely to eat their soup. Perhaps it is the intense flavor, or maybe they just like stirring the green dollop into their soup, but pistou is always a hit at our house.

A note on the cheese: purists will insist on leaving it out, as it is a more recent addition to the recipe. I’ve read that in Nice they use Gruyere, but parmesan or pecorino are decidedly more common. Whatever you do, don’t add a soft cheese like mozzarella – it should be a sharp, hard cheese, if any.

How do you make it? You can learn during hands-on cooking classes on a Provence culinary vacation, but it’s easy to make even in your own kitchen.

Pistou Recipe

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 0 minutes
Cook method: none
Serve: 6


  • Basil leaves
  • crushed garlic
  • olive oil
  • parmesan or pecorino cheese
  • salt to taste

A bunch of fresh basil for a cooking class. Instructions:

1. Simply combine a large bunch of basil leaves, several cloves of crushed garlic, olive oil, and either salt or cheese (parmesan or pecorino) to taste. (If you use the cheese, you might still need some salt, depending on how much you add). You can make it in a food processor, with a mortar and pestle, or simply chop it all very fine.

Pistou, by the way, means “pounded,” much like the Italian “pesto!”

Want to try it in Provence on a French food tour? Contact us for details on all of our Provence culinary vacations.

By Peg Kern

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