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Pine nuts (Recipe: penne with roasted red pepper pesto)

Use your favorite pasta (we love penne!) to make this pasta with red pepper pesto.

When I look out the window in front of my desk, I see pine trees.

And out the kitchen window? Pine trees.

And from the windows in the living room, bedroom, porch? Pines, pines, pines.

Pine trees everywhere, but not a single pine nut to eat.

How is that possible?

Pine nuts

Well, pine nuts are the edible seeds of pine trees, but not of the white pines that thrive here in New England. Most pine nuts (also called pignoli or piñon) in our markets come from European stone pine, Colorado and Mexican pinyon, or Korean pine.

It takes 15-25 years for a tree to begin producing the seeds, which must be picked from the ground, taken from squirrel caches, or extracted by hand from the pine cones -- a costly harvesting process that explains the high price of pine nuts.

Though pine nuts can be eaten raw, a bit of toasting for 2-3 minutes in a dry nonstick frying pan until just slightly golden will bring out their distinctive mild flavor. Because they have a high oil content, they will turn rancid quickly. Store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a month, or in the freezer for up to six months. You can toast pine nuts directly from the freezer without defrosting. 

Pine nuts are one of the ingredients I keep in the pantry to inspire my weeknight cooking; a few toasted nuts tossed here and there can elevate a simple dish to elegant heights.

Red pepper pesto: so good on pasta or on roasted vegetables.

Penne with red pepper pesto  {vegan}

Serves 6.


1 lb penne (or pasta of your choice)
1/2 cup pine nuts
12 oz roasted red peppers (I use good quality store-bought)
1/2 cup firmly packed fresh parsley leaves (reserve a few leaves for garnish)
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 pinch of mild red pepper flakes (optional, to taste)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp ground black pepper


Bring a large pot of water to boil, and cook pasta according to package directions.

While the pasta is cooking, toast the pine nuts in a dry nonstick frying pan over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, shaking or stirring frequently, until the nuts are just lightly browned. Add the nuts to the food processor, along with all remaining ingredients. Blend until smooth. (Can be made ahead.)

Drain the pasta, but do not rinse. Add to a large bowl with as much of the pesto as you like to coat the pasta, and stir to combine. Garnish with reserved parsley leaves. Serve hot or at room temperature.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More pestos:

Fresh basil pesto, from The Perfect Pantry
Pesto soba, from The Perfect Pantry
Basil pesto with lemon, from Kalyn's Kitchen
Pesto hummus, from Budget Bytes

Penne pasta with roasted red pepper pesto makes a nice change from green pestos. #vegan

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


oh my look at that pesto. you know this is right up my alley lydia! and the best thing is i have everything i need! i am thinking of serving it on aubergines instead of pasta!

After seeing your photo, my son has insisted I make this, he had it for lunch every day when he was in Greece. I'm thinking maybe as a topping for jacket(baked) potato instead of pasta. Makes me hungry now!

A friend told me there were online complaints about Chinese pinenuts, which are cheaper than the ones imported from Italy but which can sometimes give people bitter aftertastes (in some cases a chemical change that can last for days). Here in England, some stores have begun offering 'Italian Pinenuts' next to the 'Pinenuts'; they're more expensive, larger, but I've been buying those instead.

I printed this one! It was delicious Lydia

A pesto lover like me has got to try this version, Lydia - and I always have pine nuts at home, love them!

So that's why pine nuts are so pricey!

BTW, I need to be adopted!

That pesto looks so fresh and lovely! Such a great alternative to the traditional kind. It would certainly elevate any pasta to new heights. I'll definitely have to check out Maris' blog.

My favorite recipe with pine nuts is a peasant tart with pheasant, spinach, egg, lavender and pinenut filling. My friend's husband is a hunter and most years I get two or three pheasants just before hunting season when she clears out the freezer.

I really like the way she freezes these pheasants, in half quart cardboard milk cartons the cleaned pheasant is covered with water and frozen. Keeps perfectly!

Beautiful pesto there.

We like to put toasted pine nuts on our salad.

I've had pine nuts sitting in our pantry for awhile and wasn't sure what to do with them. Now I have an idea! Thanks!

This recipe does sound like a wonderful weeknight dinner. I love, love, love your red bowl. Really. I want it.

Thank you for the lovely intro! I can't wait to introduce my "blog mom" on In Good Taste! :)

AND by the way, I am definitely making this pesto! Love roasted red peppers.

Love penne and love pine nuts even if they come from a squirrel's catch ... Maris sounds like she knows what she's doing. Bravo on Worknight Dinners!

No pine nuts from your trees, hopefully you get some mushrooms in season. We love pine nuts at home and it's not unknown for a packet to mysteriously disappear before being used up in a recipe!

Meeta, this would be delicious on eggplant, and I love that except for parsley (which I do grow in the garden), I have all of the ingredients in my pantry all the time.

Lesley, love your idea about topping a potato with this pesto, too.

Paul, thanks for sharing this information. Here in Rhode Island, I don't think I've seen Chinese pine nuts -- or maybe I have and just don't know it.

Mary, glad you liked it.

Patricia, this is one of those pestos that can be used in so many ways, so I hope you like it!

Mimi, yep, if we didn't have to pay all those squirrels to do the ground work, pine nuts would be much less expensive.

Susan, towards the end of every summer I make lots of pesto with the basil from my garden and put it in the freezer, and long about this time of year, I'm pretty tired of eating basil pesto. This one is a nice change from the usual.

Patricia, I love the image of those milk-carton pheasants stacked up in your freezer! Your tart sounds unusual and delicious.

Nate, I think pine nuts make any salad into a class act, especially salads with cheese.

Hillary, the links in this post will give you more ideas of how to use your pine nuts, but please store them in the freezer, to keep them from going rancid.

Pam, I love it, too. But if I ever see another, I'll send one to you.

Maris, I always make this with roasted peppers from a jar (Trader Joe's sells a fire-roasted red-and-yellow pepper combination), which makes it perfect for worknight dinners.

TW, aren't Worknight Dinners a great idea?

Neil, yes, I hope I have some mushrooms this year, though now that I know (thank you, readers) that I shouldn't have picked all the mushrooms that first year, I'm not terribly optimistic!

Ohhhhh...I have no idea why it never occurred to me that pine nuts come from pine trees! I guess because I never saw anything but needles and cones (obviously was looking at the wrong pine trees!). I'm all for good worknight dinner - this one looks like a keeper. Lovely presentation too!

Mmm, I always try to keep pine nuts around and I had no idea you could store them in the freezer - thanks for the tip! This pesto looks terrific, I love the bright colors of the orange sauce flecked with green. And I love Maris' blog too - there can never be enough recipes for weeknight dinners!

I love roasted red peppers. For some reason, the flavour of pine nuts doesn't appeal to me. I know I risk being drummed out of the foodie circle for saying that.. but I tend to replace them with slivered almonds.
So nice of you to adopt a blogger! I know I have always appreciated your advice and kind words.

I'm making this pasta dish this weekend! Looks fabulous.

Wow - how can this be bad? I'm thinking I'll have to re-adjust me menu this week; take off spag & meatballs and add this instead. I'll check out the other sites as well.

Kathy, if all the pine trees near my house were the right pines instead of white pines, I'd be swimming in pine nuts.

Joanna, not just could, but should store them in the freezer. They have a very short shelf life otherwise.

Natashya, try walnuts in this recipe, if you like them, and your almond substitution will work well, too (be sure to toast the nuts a bit, regardless of which type you use).

Eileen, hope you like it.

HB, this pesto is a nice alternative to tomato-based sauces. You can also add a teaspoon of tomato paste to this, for a bit sweeter flavor.

I love pine nuts. This sounds really tasty, a great variation of pesto. And fun that you're spotlighting Maris. I've been reading her blog since BlogHer Boston and think she's great!

I think this recipe is a real keeper! Thank you for sharing this delicious dish.

Kalyn, I think Maris is great, too, and I'm so glad to be her blog mom.

Chuck, thanks. This is one of those simple dishes that springs from having a well-stocked (overstocked?!) pantry.

The photo at the top of this post is gorgeous! Granted I'm a pasta addict, but this photo makes me want to recreate this recipe for lunch!

What a lovely introduction to Maris and her blog, In Good Taste. It's fun to watch our blog family grow, as I have always wanted a little sis. I'm glad you two found each other!

Roasted red peppers are delicious and it sounds like they would be amazing in this.

I love pasta dishes that can be thrown together on weeknights after work.

Sandie, thanks -- I'm really trying to improve my photography. If the food looks good enough to eat, I'm happy. Looking forward to having our whole blog family together at Blogher this summer.

Sara, pasta is the ultimate go-to weeknight dinner, and this pesto takes just a minute or two to make.

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