Pistou sauce, or just pistou, is a cold sauce made from cloves of garlic, fresh basil, and olive oil. Some more modern versions of the recipe include grated parmesan, pecorino or similar hard cheeses. Traditionally, the ingredients are crushed and mixed together in a mortar with a pestle, (pistou means pounded in the Provençal language).
The word "Pistou" was introduced from Genoese dialect "Pesto" after being brought into Provence in the 19th century by Italian immigrants from Genoa and Ligury ( 30 % of Provence population are of italian origin) Of course, there is no confusion between "pistou" and "pesto", no more than "pizza" in New York City and "pizza" in Rome, the key difference being the absence of pinoli (pine nuts) from pistou. But in italian restaurants in Nice or Marseilles, even in 1950 in Provence both pistou and pasta with Pistou were ignored by local cooks.
It is a typical condiment from the Provence region of France and from Italian regions that can be served with pasta dishes or as a spread for bread. But it is most often associated with the Provençal dish Soupe au Pistou or minestrone al pesto (Ligury) like summer soup that includes white beans, green beans, tomatoes, summer squash, potatoes, and spaghetti. These ingredients can be left out or replaced as long as the soup's golden rule about summer vegetables is followed. Thus Pistou soup is not made with, for example, leeks. Some recipes incorporate the pistou into the soup just before serving. Others recommend offering the sauce at the table to be added after the soup is served.
Both pistou and pesto probably share the same origins. The Roman poet Virgil describes a sauce of crushed herbs, garlic, salt, and olive oil. A version with pinoli emerged around Genoa to become pesto, while pistou evolved in the areas around Nice.
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