Piñon nuts are an iconic New Mexican ingredient, and the piñon pine is the state’s official tree. Piñon is harvested in the fall and many people search for their supply throughout winter.
If people can’t go foraging, these elusive nuts could be found at roadside stands and sometimes are a rare treasure at a farmers’ market. Piñon nuts have a nice buttery flavor that is highlighted in this easy-to-make pesto.
3 cups loosely packed basil leaves, stems removed
1 plump garlic clove, peeled
3 tablespoons piñon or pine nuts
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Drop the basil into boiling water for a second or two, then drain, rinse and pat dry. Mash the garlic in a mortar with ¼ teaspoon salt and the pine nuts, then add the basil leaves a handful at a time. Grind them, using a circular motion, until you have a fairly fine paste with very small flecks of leaves. Briefly work in the cheeses, then stir in the olive oil. Taste for salt. Or, to use a food processor, process the garlic, salt and pine nuts until finely chopped, then add the basil and olive oil and puree until smooth. Add the cheeses and process just to combine.
Makes about 1 cup of pesto.
— Adapted from “Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen,” 2006
Photo by Alison Penn.
Cook’s Note: Make the pesto vegan by omitting the cheeses and adding lemon juice and nutritional yeast. If you want more texture, add piñon by half a tablespoon at a time. Thin, tender basil stems can also be used in the pesto, but be aware that longer, woody stems could create bitter flavor.