How to make pesto without pine nuts

Is it possible to make pesto without pine nuts?  And why would you need to?  Barb posted the other day about a pumpkin shortage that has people buying up cans of Libby’s on eBay for eyebrow-raising prices.  I’ve discovered another shortage this summer:  pine nuts.  I have a HUGE bush of basil in my herb pot, just begging to be made into pesto, and can I find pine nuts anywhere?  Well…..I CAN, but they are $25 per pound, and I refuse to pay that.  I’d been wondering why they were so expensive, and why so few places had them at all.

About the same time I was wondering this, Barb was having a weird taste-bud issue–all of a sudden, things that she usually loves were tasting really hideously bad to her.  She went googling to find out what might cause that, and found something called “pine nut mouth.”  Turns out that the entire European pine nut crop failed this year (or last year?) and so ALL of the pine nuts that are being sold right now are from China.  And it turns out that these Chinese pine nuts cause, for SOME people, a syndrome called Pine Nut Mouth, which causes things to taste bad for a week or more.  So there you have it–pine nuts are hard to come by this year!

So what do you do with all that basil?  Fear not!  You can still make pesto, using either walnuts or pecans.  Here’s how I did it last night:

Pecan Basil Pesto

  • 4-5 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 c. fresh sage leaves (optional–this does take it in a different flavor direction, but works well with the pecans)
  • 2 TBSP minced garlic
  • 1 c. chopped pecans
  • 1 c. parmesan (or Romano or Manchego) shredded
  • 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • salt to taste

Put all the ingredients except the olive oil and salt in a food processor and whirl until the basil and pecans are well pulverized and mixed.  Pour half of the olive oil in and mix.  Add the rest a drizzle at a time, until the pesto looks smooth and the texture you want (I like mine the consistency of chip dip; some people like it more liquid).  When it is the consistency you want, taste it.  Add salt as desired.

Variations:  Use walnuts instead of pecans (thanks to Leah T. for that tip.)  Use other fresh herbs: marjoram, thyme, parsley.

Serve with crusty bread, or over pasta.  We also used it to “butter” sweet corn–mmmmm!


15 thoughts on “How to make pesto without pine nuts

  1. Oh you are wicked with that ‘butter’ sweet corn suggestion! My son is going dairy free and sweet corn has been a problem for us… until now!

    Also, I always add some aged cheese to my pesto. There is a Manchego (sheep and goats milk so my son can have it) at Costco for $8 a lb. Much cheaper than the co-op.

    If you want to know how much cheese to add to this recipe, I use the rule of thumb to put as much cheese as nuts in pesto.

  2. You can also use walnuts. I agree you need cheese in your pesto as well. I always use fresh parm. Try adding some green beans to your pasta and then top with the pesto. My kids (ages 2&3) love it. I have even had to serve it for breakfast. (I know Yuck!, but hey it is better than some alternatives!!)

  3. I’ve made pesto with walnuts before! And I always put parmesan in it.
    Hey, that pine nut mouth thing might be good for someone trying to lose weight…no snacking if it dosen’t taste good! Hmm…. 🙂

  4. I use almonds. Works GREAT! Tastes wonderful.
    Never had Pine nut mouth, other than CHOKING on the price!

  5. How well would this freeze? (I’m guessing “pretty well”, but that’s still a guess.) I’ve got loads of basil as well, and would love to enjoy fresh-ish pesto all winter and spring….

  6. Thank you for the pesto recipe using pecans. I just happen to have a pecan tree in my back yard and I welcome another way to use them. All other nuts are pricey for me.

    • Thanks for stopping by. Glad we could help you use up your pecans! (I’m feeling a little envious because I could do so many things with unlimited pecans!)


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