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What separates a French pistou from an Italian pesto is that a pesto has nuts, usually pine nuts, while a pistou has only basil, garlic, olive oil, and sometimes a good hunk of Parmesan. But in this pistachio pistou, the nuts don't act as the binder as they would in a pesto. Instead, they replace the basil altogether as the prime flavor and ingredient. The result is a sauce that's creamy, rich, nutty, and vibrantly green.
I love this recipe for how unusual, decadent, and uncommonly easy it is. It's a simple no-cook sauce made by whisking together garlic, olive oil, butter, pasta water, and the secret ingredient, pistachio butter. Pistachio butter has a phenomenal mixture of textures, from creamy and buttery to finely granular, so not only do you get pistachio clinging to each strand of spaghetti, but also little crunchy shards of nut throughout. The result is a rich, green pasta dish that's perfect for the holidays.
The garlic makes it a pistou, but this strong flavor can be omitted for a rich, buttery nut sauce. I like it equally both ways.
I love the idea of serving pasta as a side dish instead of mashed potatoes, rice, or some other starch. I think in our love of big pasta plates we forget how well it works not as the center of attention. A special nest of pasta next to some roast meat or charred fish can have a much more interesting profile than the same old olive oil roast potatoes. I served it with roast pork loin, and I just think it makes the most beautiful holiday lunch.