basil leaves covering the table

It’s Pesto Time! Or, Pistou Time!

The basil has been soaking up the sun and warm temperatures of August. Time to make some pesto, to preserve all of that sunshine for the cold, short days of winter.

Looking at last year’s photo, I’m surprised to discover that I made pesto exactly one year and a day ago. The instinct to preserve that basil must run deep!

While I was stripping leaves off the stems, I began thinking about the word “pesto.” The etymology of words has always interested me, and I like to consider word parts and their meanings to come to a conclusion about the evolution of a particular word. “Pesto” sounds like “paste” to me, so I guessed that “pesto” means paste in Italian.

stem of basil
Strip only the leaves off the stem for the sauce.

Wrong. “Pesto” is derived from the word for “pestle,” as in a mortar and pestle; and pestle comes from the Italian “pestare,” which means to crush or pound. This is how pesto was made before the advent of small electric appliances.

stalk of basil stripped of leaves
The stripped stalk

It’s a lot easier to make pesto today, thankfully.

I also learned that pesto can refer to various sauces made by crushing or pounding. For the basil sauce, the proper name is “pesto alla genovese.” It is by far the most popular pesto, and so we have shortened the name to refer to it.

Over the years, I’ve tried many recipes for pesto. Sometimes, I am disappointed in the blandness, other times I’m overcome by the garlic. Last year, I didn’t have any pine nuts on hand, so I made it without them. You know what? I actually liked the taste better, especially when adding it to recipes like Caprese Chicken and Veggie Wraps, or stirring it into marinara sauce.

Reading a bit further, it seems that my recipe is nothing new. It was made in Provence, France, long before I “invented” it. There, it is referred to as “pistou,” (“pounded”), and is akin to pesto alla genovese  without the pine nuts.

Where you decide to go nuts, or not, know that a long tradition of fine cooking is standing behind you.

Basil Pistou

(makes about 1 c. sauce)


1 1/2 c. basil leaves, packed (about two 15″ stalks)

2 T. grated Parmesan cheese

1 tsp. crushed garlic (about two cloves)

1/4 -1/2 tsp. sea salt (to taste)

1/2 c. olive oil


Wash basil stalks in sink, then set on a dish towel to dry overnight.

The next day, remove the basil leaves from the stems. Discard the flowers and stems. Place the basil leaves in blender container.

stalk of basil stripped of leaves
The mighty blender cup

Add all other ingredients. If possible, use “pulse” mode on the blender to thoroughly mix ingredients; or, remove container and use a spatula to push down ingredients so that the sauce is uniform.

sea salt and crushed garlic
Sea salt and garlic quantities can be adjusted to your taste.
pesto in blender container
Check that the consistency of the sauce is uniform.

The sauce will get more tasty as the flavors have time to meld; so if you plan on using your sauce the day you make it, give it several hours to sit. You can refrigerate the sauce for up to a week (sometimes, longer), or preserve it. I freeze my sauce in small portions that can be defrosted as needed.

pesto portioned in popsicle mold
A popsicle mold did not make a good freezing container – it was too hard to get the sauce out. small portion containers (1/4 c.) work better.

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