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The classic French pistou is an olive oil and basil sauce that’s like a pesto without pine nuts! It adds a burst of freshness to any dish.


Want a spin on pesto without pine nuts? Try Pistou! Pistou is the classic French cousin of pesto, and it’s even simpler: all you need are basil, garlic, and olive oil. Mash it into a paste and you’ve got a chunky sauce that’s great for dipping and drizzling. In fact, we might like it just as much as classic basil pesto. It’s like a nut free dairy free pesto that packs just as much flavor. Come, experience the magic!

Ingredients in pistou

Pistou is a classic French sauce from Provence made with olive oil, basil and garlic. It’s like an Italian pesto without pine nuts or Parmesan cheese. Some modern recipes for pistou add cheese, but at it’s core it’s just three ingredients. Pistou is served as a condiment or for dipping. It’s also famously used as a garnish for soupe au pistou, a soup similar to minestrone. To make pistou, you’ll need 3 ingredients plus salt:

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Basil
  • Garlic

Use a small blender or mortar and pestle for pistou

The traditional way to make pistou is using a mortar and pestle to mash it into a sauce (similar to with pesto). It’s easiest and quickest with an immersion blender. Here are a few notes on the methods:

  • Immersion blender or small blender: A small blender is key here since you have a small quantity of sauce. An immersion blender is great (and works for soups too).
  • Mortar and pestle: A mortar and pestle is the traditional way to make pistou, and it’s fun to mash it if you have one on hand. It does take longer than the blender method, and the basil can get stringy since it doesn’t have much to mash against to provide friction like in a pesto.

Pistou is dairy free pesto without pine nuts

Pistou is a great option for people with dietary restrictions who want to enjoy the flavors of a traditional pesto. This classic French sauce is a version of pesto without pine nuts, and it’s a dairy free pesto since it has no Parmesan cheese. Because it lacks these two ingredients, pistou has a looser texture than pesto: it’s not as thick and creamy.

There are other methods to make a pesto without pine nuts, including cashew pesto or walnut pesto. There’s also vegan pesto that’s dairy free but substitutes ingredients for cheese. But pistou is a sauce especially designed without these ingredients: it tastes beautifully fresh and garlicky on its own.

Blanch the basil for an ever-green pistou

Here’s a little tip: leftover pistou turns dark green to brown as it sits. If you plan to have this pistou on hand for leftovers, you may want to blanch the basil first. Here’s what to know:

  • Blanching is a cooking method where you boil vegetables until they’re crisp tender, then plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking process. This locks in the bright green color of vegetables that turn brown.
  • Boil only 30 seconds to 1 minute. The boiling time is quick: you just want it to be bright green! Add the basil to a small saucepan of boiling water and boil until bright green, 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  • Immediately plunge into an ice bath. This stops the cooking process and locks in the color. Once the leaves are cool, remove them from the water and squeeze out as much water as possible.
Ratatouille Recipe
Classic French Ratatouille with pistou

Ways to serve pistou

You can use pistou for garnishing, dipping, and most ways you’d use a pesto. The only exception is pasta: it’s not as thick and saucy as pesto, so expect it to be a light olive oil-based coating. We recommend it more for garnishes on soups and stews or for drizzling over breads or salads. Here are some ideas:

More basil recipes

This pistou recipe is the perfect use for a big bunch of fresh basil! A few more great basil recipes you’ll love:

This pistou recipe is…

Vegetarian, vegan, plant-based, dairy-free and gluten-free.

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  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: ½ cup 1x


The classic French pistou is an olive oil and basil sauce that’s similar to pesto, but even simpler! It adds a burst of freshness to any dish.


  • 1 cup basil leaves, loosely packed
  • 1 medium garlic clove, minced
  • Heaping ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil


  1. If you want to preserve the bright green basil color for leftovers, see the notes below on How to Blanch Basil*. Otherwise, go to Step 2.
  2. Using a small blender or immersion blender, blend the olive oil, garlic and salt. Then add the basil leaves and pulse until a chunky sauce forms. Make sure not to over-blend. Or, grind the ingredients in a mortar and pestle until a chunky sauce forms.


*How to blanch basil: This preserves the bright green color. Start a small pot of water to boil. Prepare a bowl of ice water. Remove the basil leaves from the stem and wash them. Once the water is boiling, add the basil and boil until bright green, 30 seconds to 1 minute.

  • Category: Sauce
  • Method: Blended
  • Cuisine: French
  • Diet: Vegan

Keywords: Pistou, pesto without pine nuts, pesto recipe without pine nuts, pesto without nuts

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Hi, we’re Alex and Sonja Overhiser, married cookbook authors, food bloggers, and recipe developers. We founded A Couple Cooks to share fresh, seasonal recipes for memorable kitchen moments! Our recipes are made by two real people and work every time.

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  1. I have an enormous amount of basil in my garden, and I made this recipe yesterday to serve over grilled swordfish. It is fantastic. I don’t love nuts or cheese of any kind, so I don’t make pesto. Have you ever tried freezing this? Just wondering how that would work.