It’s the end of the summer and the basil is high. And I’m feeling like the little red hen for this years pesto fest – with one expensive exception. I’ve made a pretty good Parmesan, pressed the olive oil, harvested the garlic, grown the basil and the lemons, (permission to poke me with a sharp stick if my smugness is too much for you), but alas no pine nuts. My pine nut trees aren’t nutting and they won’t for at least another 4 years. And at $80 a kilo I’m not going to be enthusiastically filling a bag at the bulk bin – been caught like that before.
A couple of years ago I searched around for an alternative and found this great recipe for pesto using pumpkin seeds instead of pine nuts. They’ve got a high oil content like pine nuts but are a lot cheaper and are very good for your prostate (if you have one).
Pumpkin Seed Pesto:
- 1/2 cup of pumpkin seeds, roasted lightly in a pan until they start to pop and salted
- 2 tablespoons of fresh grated Parmesan
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 cup of basil
- 1/2 cup of parsley (I use all basil if I’ve got a lot)
- 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- 1/2 cup of good olive oil
Put the pumpkin seeds, Parmesan and garlic in a food processor until they are finely chopped. Add the basil, parsley, lemon juice and zest and drizzle in the olive oil until it’s mixed. A double recipe makes 500 grams and I freeze it in little moulds and then free-flow it for popping into pasta, tomato soup or using as a pizza topping.
How to Grow Basil
Basil is a short-lived annual herb but if you grow it properly you’ll have a bucket full of basil leaves to process at the start of autumn. Italian Seeds have a great range of basil varieties to choose from. The secret to prolific basil is heat and water. Don’t try and grow it too early or late in the summer or it will sulk. Let the soil warm up, plant it in a sunny spot and give it plenty of water. Pinch the tops out to encourage it to bush out and not go to seed. The leaves don’t dry well but they do freeze and I keep a bag for crumbling into tomato dishes through the winter.
How to Grow Pine Nuts
Pine nuts trees are as tough as old boots and grow pretty much everywhere a radiata pine tree will grow and they get to the same size too. They don’t need a pollinator so you can get away with having one tree if space is an issue. They don’t start to produce pine cones until at least year 6 but when they’re mature you’ll get approximately 5kg of shelled nuts from each tree. Getting them out of the shell is tricky, you can see why they’re so expensive but when you try fresh ones they’re so sweet and yummy you won’t go back to shop ones.
How to Make Parmesan
My Parmesan isn’t aged for 2 years, it’s lucky if it gets to 2 months but it is a very good approximation of the real thing. To give it a dry mouth feel I use 60% full cream milk and 40% skim milk. I use a thermophilic cheese culture which goes by the catchy name of TCC3 and I also use the Lipase enzyme which gives Parmesan it’s characteristic, nutty sweet flavor that you either love or loathe. I coat it with olive oil rather than waxing it because I think olive oil goes better with Parmesan and encourages a drier crust to form than waxing. A 12 litre batch will yield you a finished cheese weighing around 900 grams.
How to Grow Garlic
Garlic is one of the easiest crops to grow. On the shortest day (mid-winter) break up a bulb of garlic into corms, plant the fattest corms pointy end up about 2cm under the soil. Water them well during the spring and early summer. Ease off on the water towards Christmas and harvest them in the New Year when the tops start browning off. If you want to spoil them give them a little lime. Don’t try and grow supermarket garlic as it’s been treated with anti-sprouting chemicals. Get proper seed garlic – which we just happen to have a reasonable supply of each autumn.
But if that all sounds too much like hard work, I’d recommend swapping some of your other produce with a willing Italian friend who makes pesto by the bucket load. That’s what I did last year – persimmons for pesto (see you can put your stick away – I’m not that sanctimonious). Gino & Leila, if you’re reading you’re still welcome to the persimmons this year.