January 19, 2005
Pignolas by any other name still taste as sweet!
We speak of the pine nut, an essential ingredient in pesto and a key player in many Southwestern dishes. They’re pricey, but they’re well worth the indulgence.
Some pine nut nuggets:
Mountain time: These aromatic orange seed-sized nuts are known as pignolas when they’re grown in Italy and piñons when grown in Mexico and the American Southwest. They are the seed of several types of pine trees, so the next time you’re out hiking, stand in line with the squirrels and see if you can harvest some of your own from the inner reaches of certain pine cones. If you find a good cone, you might get a yield as high as 100 nuts. Pine nuts seem to like southern climes, as the pine trees that yield them grow in southern Italy, southern France, southern Spain and Portugal, and our Southwest.
Picture this: Unshelled pine nuts are redolent with the aroma of pine woods. Imagine S outhwest and Mexican Indian tribes gathering pine nuts in the autumn to be used as an energy source and for adding flavor and sweetness to many dishes.
Pine nut perfection: Pine nut shells are the color of pine cones; the pine nuts themselves are a cream color. If you are a true pine nut aficionado (and have a lot of time and patience), purchase unshelled nuts to get the full pine nut effect. But remember: Each pine nut is only about half an inch long, and the shells do not come off willingly. If you are more into instant pine nut gratification, buy shelled nuts. They should be uniformly creamy in appearance and if there is any aroma, it should be of pine resin. Try to purchase pine nuts from a source that does a fast turnover of its stock, because, with their high fat content, they can go rancid quickly. You can detect rancidity by a stale oil smell. Once you’ve gotten your pine nuts home, store them in an airtight container. In the fridge, they should last about a month (but not more); in the freezer, they can last about two months. If you’ve purchased unshelled pine nuts, shell them before freezing.
Doin’ the pine nut pesto: If you’ve indulged in pesto, then you have indulged in pine nuts. This luxurious sauce is a combination of fresh basil (or, for nonpurists, spinach), garlic, olive oil and pine nuts.
Roasted goodness: Pine nuts are not usually eaten raw, but are roasted first. This mellows out the strong pine resin flavor. If you have purchased raw pine nuts, spread them out in a thin layer on a baking sheet and roast for about 10 minutes in a 375-degree oven or in a dry frying pan on the stove. Roasted pine nuts are great just eaten out-of-hand, tossed into salads, stuffings, stews and sauces, cooked in pastries, flan and cakes or added as a garnish to poultry or seafood dishes. Pine nuts are sometimes ground into flour and used in confectionery and baking recipes.
Pine nut power: As with all nuts, pine nuts have most of their calories in fat, but it is mostly the "good" kind, being about 40 percent monounsaturated and 45 percent polyunsaturated. Three ounces of pine nuts will give you about 380 calories, but will also give you a decent source of potassium,
phosphorus, zinc and niacin.