Has anyone else noticed the skyrocketing cost of pine nuts, when you can find them at all? The going rate in Philadelphia seems to be somewhere around $25/pound. I think I’m not the only one with this problem—I noticed that the pesto at my local “boutique” grocery is made from pecans, not pine nuts.
Yet no one seems to have informed the basil that pesto is unaffordable. This is the time to freeze basil for winter. So, what’s a goat to do?
You’ve got two options, depending on your optimism about the pine nut market. Option 1 is to freeze your pesto without the nuts, on the hopes that prices will drop sometime this fall or winter. Most instructions for freezing pesto tell you to do this anyway, I guess on the theory that the nuts could turn rancid and ruin your pesto. I’ve never had this problem, but maybe the current pine nut shortage is a good time to follow the “official” advice of freezing pesto sans nuts and cheese. It’s basically a puree of basil and olive oil, and it certainly keeps well.
Options 2 is to follow the lead of the commercial pesto producers and use a different nut. I’ve been using walnuts, as I find them slightly “meatier” (and therefore more pine-nut like) than pecans, but you can experiment with whichever nuts you find most appealing. Whatever kind of nuts you choose, though, make sure that they’re raw and unsalted. Contrary to most of the “official” recommendations, I’ve had no problems with the quality of frozen pesto, with nuts and cheese, so long as I use it within the year.
And as for what freeze to them in? This is the perfect use any non-Mason canning jars you’ve found among your stash, and you can even close it up with a used canning lid. Yee-haw! Just remember that this time, you’ll need to store the jars with the rings, since there’s nothing holding on the lid otherwise.
Poor Man’s Pesto
2 c. fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 c. walnut pieces
2/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 c. shredded Pecorino Romano or Parmesean cheese (pecorino is less expensive, but saltier)
Salt to taste
To freeze (or eat!) as is: Pulse the basil, garlic, and walnut pieces in a food processor. Add the olive oil in a steady stream. Remove from the food processor and stir in the cheese. Salt to taste.
To freeze without nuts and cheese: Do the same, but omitting the nuts and cheese, adding them only when you thaw the basil puree. Be sure to label your container so that you know what to add, come January.