Who doesn’t love the aniseedy fragrance of lush, sun-warmed basil? A healthy crop of basil means that summer has finally arrived. Basil in the garden also means that it’s time to make a batch of basil pesto.
Why I don’t put pine nuts in my pesto
Whatever variety of pesto I make, whether coriander, basil, kale, rocket (arugula) or even nettle, I use locally sourced almonds from the Barossa Valley. I can buy these for around $15 per kilo without packaging from my local Foodland supermarket by using my own reusable produce bags. In contrast, imported pine nuts (and they are always imported) cost between $70 and $90 per kilo in Australia. Depending on what nuts grow in your local area and your taste preference, you could try peanuts, cashews, walnuts, pistachios, macadamias or even pecans in your pesto.
Cost and food miles aside, pine nuts may be leading to the destruction of an ecosystem. Jonathan C. Slaght, biologist and projects manager for the Russia program of the Wildlife Conservation Society, recently wrote an article for The New York Times in which he argues that excessive harvesting of pine nuts for the millions around the world who love pesto with their pasta threatens the survival of Korean pine forests.
The global demand is making this harvest unsustainable. The entire Korean pine ecosystem could collapse if it continues. We are already seeing the cracks appearing: The shortage of pine nuts in the forests may have contributed to recent incidents of starving bears roaming the streets — and even attacking residents — in Luchegorsk, a Russian town near the Chinese border.
Pesto purists may sob into their handkerchiefs at the thought of using any other nut, but, as Slaght concludes, ‘Is a nutty pesto really worth risking a priceless ecosystem?’
- ½ cup raw or blanched almonds (whichever you prefer)
- 1 cup well-packed sweet basil leaves
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- Grind almonds in a food processor until coarsely chopped.
- Add remaining ingredients and continue processing until mixture reaches the consistency you like (I like my pesto a little rough).
- Store in the fridge in a sterilised, lidded glass jar with a layer of olive oil on top.
- Use as a pasta sauce (add a little of the hot pasta water for a thinner consistency), as a marinade or as a dip.