Playing with Pistou

One of my favorite things to make in the spring is a vegetable soup with a dollop of pistou, a country French type of pesto using tomato, garlic, basil and cheese.

Pistou is a zap of flavor, a bold hit of color and a zing to the tastebuds and an essential part of the spring menu.

This spring, however, my ability to use the mortar and pestle was out of whack, and so was using a knife so I had to miss my annual ritual. However, this summer, it has finally warmed up enough in the outlying boroughs to permit ripening of tomatoes. Yay! Tomatoes!

My CSA box has been overflowing with tomatoes and yesterday I was pondering what to make for dinner that would be simple and help me use up my bounty.  I thought of pistou over pasta.   And, given I am still not up to mortar work, I thought of making pistou in my food processor.

My dinner was ready in 10 minutes and it was fantastic.

I had the great luxury to use some incredible local goat cheese from Achadinha Farm.  Donna Pacheco is an incredible craftsman and her aged goat cheese is heady stuff. I was lucky enough to catch the staff at their stall at the end of the day and since they were packing up I got a tiny deal on a nice wedge of Capricious.  It’s interesting stuff, contrary to intuition you are not supposed to refrigerate it!  I like using it in lieu of Parmesan or serve it in rough chunks on a cheese plate or grated over vegetables or eggs.  It’s a little luxury.


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(keep the Capricious in waxed paper on the counter – not in the fridge!)

But last night I decided to get splurgy and use it in my pistou and I think I will never use Parmesan again.

Although using a food processor and aged goat cheese are quite non-traditional for a pistou I can heartily endorse their use.

While the pasta water was heating, I peeled some garlic and minced in the food processor.  Then, I added a cup of the Capricious cheese, broken into small chunks and pulsed until the cheese was well ground.  Next in went a medium-zized bunch of basil and when it was smoothly ground I tossed in a small tomato.  The processor whizzed away turning the normal pesto-green ingredients into an incredible sunset hue.  My tomato was a pink/golden heirloom variety and I added it “seeds, peel and all”.   After scraping the bowl and adding a bit of salt and pepper I thinned out the pistou with a small slug of olive oil and, voila! Pistou in 2 minutes.

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I dressed the drained spaghetti with the pistou and let it heat gently in the saucepan to mellow the raw garlic a little.   Mounded in a warm bowl the pasta coated with pistou glowed with warmth and flavor.  I perched on my chair and slurped away and watched Casablanca feeling rather content with life.

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HAL’s Pistou

5 cloves of garlic
1/2 c Parmesan or other aged dry cheese (I used Capricious by Achadinha in Marin)
1 bunch of basil (or 2 cups packed leaves)
1 small tomato
1/2 tsp salt or to taste (depending upon how salty the cheese is)
a few grinds of black pepper
2 T extra virgin olive oil

In a food processor, blend the garlic, then add the cheese and pulse until smooth.  Add the basil and pulse until the leaves are finely pureed. With the motor running add the tomato and puree until smooth.  Taste for salt and add if needed, add pepper.  With the machine running add olive oil to make a loose paste, like the consistency of jam or sour cream.

Serve in vegetable soups, dressed over cooked pasta, spread on bread in lieu of mayonnaise or drizzled over cooked vegetables.

Makes approximately one cup

(printer friendly recipe)

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12 responses to “Playing with Pistou

  1. sounds good! i’m LOVING the bunch of tomatoes that came in CSA last week. yummm…

  2. Barbie in the mtns

    I must try this. I have tried a few things with my new Processor and I like it very much. New addition to my collection of Cook Books: From the Italian Restaurant in Angel’s Camp the book is a gathering of Italian Family recipes. There are also notes about the settlements of Italians in the Mother Lode. Thanks for the new recipe. I do wish I could get home raised tomatoes.

    • I think you can do this with canned tomatoes, it’s better if they are a little on the juicy side. Wishing you had better produce and I hope you enjoy your new cookbook! Hope to bring you some tomatoes if I can arrange a visit soon.

  3. ohhh Hal this makes my heart so so happy! I love the ease in which you pull a meal together–lovely–MISS YOU SO MUCH

  4. bacon is ALWAYS nice!!

  5. I’ve just discovered your blog and think it’s just fab. I too am a blogging Heather in SF (I too am tattoo free, for the record). Your pistou is going to make for a lovely meal this week! Thank you for sharing.

  6. I have totally been thinking of pistou lately. Your version sounds delightful!

  7. This looks simply wonderful, Heather! What can possibly go wrong with fresh basil, garlic, and Parmesan! 🙂

    • Kay, if you have never added the tomato you should try it, it’s amazing how much freshness it adds to the basic pesto ingredients. Thanks for dropping by!

  8. I’ve heard of pistou, but I don’t think I’ve ever tasted it, but now I’m craving it… It sounds fabulous! Now I know what to do with the last of my summer basil and I have a fresh pasta recipe I need to try too!

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