06 September 2010

In order to avoid pine nut mouth

This long weekend has been much-needed, but hasn't resulted in a lot of cooking. I felt like I was coming down with something, so I spent most of Sunday lying on the couch in my pajamas, feeling sorry for myself and watching Law & Order (is that show ever not on TV?).

Still, I've found time to dirty a kitchen full of dishes. I've roasted endless peppers and eggplant for grilled sandwiches, made 3 quarts of chicken stock, simmered a fantastic ginger-plum compote that I completely forgot to photograph. I roused myself enough to make a batch of cookies last night, but the recipe needs a bit more tweaking before I share it. Instead, I'm going to share my most recent recipe for pesto.

basil & almond pesto

You may have heard about the problems people are having these days with pine nut mouth. Many people say that the Chinese crop is the cause of the increase in this phenomenon, but since I didn't feel like paying $16 for 8 ounces of Italian pine nuts, I decided to adapt my pesto recipe.

Walnuts are a common replacement for pignoli, but I've never liked walnuts. Although our relationship has recently started to soften, thanks to a marvelous piece of baklava that was brought on the house at our favorite Greek restaurant, I still tend to avoid them when I can.


Enter almonds. Any nut can make a good pesto, but I love the flavor of almonds, particularly these almonds that I bought raw and lightly roasted with olive oil and sea salt. Combined with the bite of raw garlic, the grassy, anise-like flavor of fresh basil, and a touch of red pepper, this pesto is perfect for smearing on bruschetta, tossing with hot pasta, or stirring into a soup.

penne al pesto

Basil & Almond Pesto

½ cup raw or roasted almonds (see below if using raw)
2 cups lightly packed basil leaves (from one large bunch)
4 large cloves garlic, lightly crushed
¼ teaspoon salt
pinch red pepper flakes
black pepper
½ cup good olive oil, plus additional if needed
¼ cup grated & packed pecorino cheese (substitute parmigiano if desired)

If you are using raw almonds, preheat the oven to 350ºF. Spread the almonds on a baking sheet, drizzle with some olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Toss well and cook, stirring once or twice, until golden brown and fragrant, 10-15 minutes. Let cool completely.

Place the almonds, basil, garlic, salt, red pepper flakes, and black pepper into a blender or food processor. Pulse a few times to combine, then, with motor running, slowly drizzle in the ½ cup olive oil. Scrape sides as needed. Alternate tablespoonfuls of water with additional tablespoonfuls of olive oil until the almonds are well ground and the mixture forms a smooth paste. Add the cheese and pulse briefly to combine.

To freeze, line a baking sheet with foil, waxed paper, or plastic wrap and drop the pesto in tablespoonfuls. Freeze until solid, then transfer to airtight container.

For pasta or gnocchi, place about 1 tablespoon pesto per serving into a large serving dish. Add a few teaspoons cooking water and stir to make a thick slurry. Drain the cooked pasta, then add to the pesto and toss well to coat. Serve with additional cheese if desired.

Makes about 1 ½ cups


  1. Pesto! We eat it once a week. Hope to not encounter pine nut mouth. Your almond rendition sounds REALLY good.

  2. Mmmm, almonds. A definite favorite in this house, too. Love the description, "...bite of raw garlic, the grassy, anise-like flavor of fresh basil...". Exactly what every pesto should be like.

  3. Thanks, Tracy & Zarah. Pesto's definitely one of my favorites.

  4. thanks! we've had the 'pine nut mouth' happen at our house. my husband wasn't able to eat without a horrible taste erupting for almost two weeks! we've been using walnuts, but almonds sound great too!