Poor Man's Pesto

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.

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11 comments to Poor Man’s Pesto

  • I’ve been making my pesto with walnuts as well. Pine nuts are so delicious, but so expensive, I’d rather save them for dishes where they stand out more. I can’t really tell the difference in the pesto. I’ve been freezing it in ice cube trays (nuts in, cheese out) and throwing a couple of cubes into a tupperware container of hot pasta for a work lunch.

  • I’ve heard that hazlenuts work well in pesto also, but I haven’t tried it. I freeze mine with the nuts as well; usually sans cheese, as it is easy enough to add at the end (and sometimes I don’t want it).

    I haven’t bought pine nuts lately, but I just used up my last stash of nuts in the freezer; guess I’ll be trying out walnuts! The basil just keeps on coming…

  • I took a cooking class and the chef said you can use pretty much any nut; and for those with nut allergies, bread works too! It’s just a way of chickening the mixture.

  • pam

    I use the whatever nut I come to firs when rummaging through my freezer. They all seem to work!

  • kim

    We use walnuts all the time and love it. At my house we’ve had some issues with pine nuts, and turns out we’re not alone. There’s a species of pine nut from China that can cause a horrible reaction and make everything you eat taste terrible for several weeks. Truly! not a conspiracy theory! Point is, walnuts are great! cheaper, yummy, no bad after taste!

  • You can also swap out walnuts for pine nuts along with arugula for basil. (You can use walnut oil instead of olive oil, but I haven’t tried that, nor does it really fit within the theme of saving money on ingredients of this post!)

  • Rebecca

    Here in sw VA pine nuts are $30/lb. Last year after a lot of researching we planted 5 Korean Stone Pines and hopefully, in about 4-5 years, we’ll harvest our first crop of pine nuts.

  • jyll

    I never use pine nuts in my pesto – I only ever use walnuts. Our local bulk warehouse carries pine nuts by the bagfuls so there’s no problem finding them, but I don’t want them! Such is life, right?!

  • Personally I think pesto made with walnuts or, even better, good ol’ Texas pecans, is TASTIER than pesto made with pine nuts. No offense to Italy. 😉

  • I have been using walnuts for years in my pesto. I freeze it with the cheese and also throw some spinach in the mix for a little nutrient boost.

  • Never mind price, I’m having a hard time even finding pine nuts this year. Like you, I’ve taken to making pesto with walnuts, and it tastes just as good to me. Also like you, I have had great luck freezing my pesto, with both the nuts and the cheese already added. I am curious why so many recipes lately recommend freezing it without the cheese. I freeze grated cheese by itself often and I’ve never had a problem; nor have I had a problem with my pesto. Do you know the answer? What’s the objection to adding the cheese before freezing?