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Pistou basil is a small, compact plant, reaching 30 centimeters in diameter, and produces mid-sized, ovate leaves with a uniform appearance. The leaves are smaller than other basil varieties and are green, thin, and flat with even, smooth edges and light veining. Pistou basil leaves are attached to green, crunchy stems, and when lightly crushed or bruised, the leaves emit a fragrant, sweet aroma similar to the smell of cloves. Pistou basil bears a mild, sweet, and subtly pungent flavor with herbaceous, green, and anise-like notes. In the summer, small white flowers will appear at the end of the stems, releasing a sweet aroma. These flowers are also edible and range in flavor from mild to slightly bitter.
Pistou basil is available in the spring through the summer.
Pistou basil, botanically classified as Ocimum basilicum 'pistou', is a dwarf sweet basil variety belonging to the Lamiaceae or mint family. The aromatic leaves grow on a compact, rounded plant reaching up to 20 centimeters in height and are known for their small size and mild flavor. Pistou basil is primarily cultivated as a novel, home garden variety, frequently grown in containers, along walkways, and in raised beds. The variety has a subtle, anise-like taste, similar to common basil, but the leaves are milder and less pungent, contributing delicate flavor notes to culinary dishes. Pistou basil can be used as a common basil substitute and complements a wide array of spices, meats, fruits, and vegetables.
Pistou basil is an excellent source of vitamin K to assist in faster wound healing and a good source of vitamin A, known for promoting healthy eyes and skin. The leaves also provide vitamin C to strengthen the immune system, iron to build proteins to transport oxygen in the blood, magnesium to regulate nerve and muscle functioning, and calcium to protect bones and teeth. Beyond internal benefits, Pistou basil contains an essential oil extracted and used topically in aromatherapy as a calming and clarifying scent.
Pistou basil has a milder flavor than common sweet basil and is best suited as a fresh garnish for both raw and cooked applications. The small leaves can be used individually, lightly torn, or chopped with their stems in clusters and tossed into green salads, stirred into soups, or mixed into fruit salads. Pistou basil can also be used as a topping over pizza, incorporated into pasta and lasagna, or blended into a sauce and served with eggs, bread, and sandwiches. In addition to savory preparations, Pistou basil can be muddled into teas, sangrias, and sparkling beverages, or it can add color, fragrance, and subtle flavoring into infused jams, jellies, and baked goods. Pistou basil pairs well with meats such as poultry, turkey, and lamb, seafood, root vegetables, including turnips, carrots, and potatoes, herbs such as rosemary, tarragon, oregano, and thyme, smoked paprika, tomatoes, and vegetables such as zucchini, ramp, green beans, swiss chard, and kale. Fresh cut basil leaves will keep 2 to 4 days when wrapped in a paper towel, placed in a plastic bag, and stored in the refrigerator. Pistou basil can also be frozen in olive oil for 4 to 6 months.
Pistou is a Provencal word translating to mean “pounded” and was derived from the Latin word pestare. The mild basil variety received its name from its popularity as an ingredient in the French pistou sauce, a cold green sauce made from crushed garlic, basil, parmesan, and olive oil. There are many different variations of the sauce with added ingredients throughout Provence, and the sauce is believed to be the French version of Italian pesto. Provence shares a border with Italy, and the region has historically had many different inhabitants, blending culinary and cultural customs. Pistou sauce is traditionally created by pounding the ingredients with a mortar and pestle, and once prepared, the fresh sauce can be spooned over pasta, vegetables, salads, grilled meats, and bread. In Provence, Pistou sauce is associated with the dish soupe au pistou, a vegetable soup used to showcase the bountiful harvests of fresh vegetables such as zucchini, tomatoes, squash, potatoes, white beans, and greens beans of the fall and summer season. Soupe au pistou is primarily cooked in the summer, but many French households also cook it in the winter as a warming meal. When soupe au pistou is presented as an appetizer, a dollop of pistou sauce is spooned into the center of the dish to allow consumers to swirl the sauce into the soup.
Pistou basil is believed by experts to be a descendant of original sweet basil varieties native to India and other regions of Southeast Asia, where the aromatic herb has been growing for thousands of years. The ancient basil varieties were spread across Asia in seed and plant form into the Middle East, Europe, and Northern Africa through trade routes in the Early Ages. Over time, many new varieties of basil were developed through extensive cultivation in the Mediterranean, including Pistou basil. Today Pistou basil is grown as an ornamental and culinary variety in home gardens worldwide, especially in warm summer regions of Europe and the United States. The cultivar may also be seen at local farmer’s markets when in season.
Recipes that include Pistou Basil. One is easiest, three is harder.
|Once Upon a Chef||Zucchini- Basil Pistou|
|Love & Olive Oil||Seared Scallops with Basil Olive Oil Pistou|
|Baked Bree||Vegetable Pistou|