Pine nuts

Pine nuts

By
Greg Malouf, Lucy Malouf
Contains
4 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740667678
Photographer
William Meppem

On warm summer days, when the heady aroma of basil perfumes the air, many a young cook’s fancy turns to pesto. If you have experienced the pleasure of making your own home-made, vivid-green pesto sauce, you will have also experienced the pain associated with the pine nut’s hefty price tag.

These tiny golden kernels come from the cones of the stone pine tree, which is native to the southern Mediterranean. Their harvest is a long and labour-intensive business, and the yield is proportionally extremely small. But their rich, creamy texture and sweet, piney flavour make them well worth the effort.

All around the Mediterranean and in the Middle East, the legacy of the Arabs is clearly visible in the number of different dishes which combine pine nuts with fruit, such as currants or raisins, often in a tangy sweet–sour base. Spinach salads with pine nuts and currants can be found in many different Mediterranean regions, from Portugal and Spain through to Provence and Italy. In Sicily they are crushed into a kind of sweet–sour salsa, also with currants, and served as an accompaniment to grilled sardines. In fact there are countless dressings and sauces made thick with crushed pine nuts, of which the best known is undoubtedly the Genovese favourite, pesto. In Lebanon, pine nuts are often ground with bread, lemon juice and olive oil to make the dressing called ‘tarator’.

Pine nuts are also dearly loved for the flavour and crunch they add to many dishes, ranging from hot savoury pilafs and rice stuffings to refreshing cool salads. They are also used in more extravagant sweet biscuits and cakes as a special treat.

Selecting and storing pine nuts

The most readily available pine nuts in Australia are imported from China. These are the ones you will find in little plastic packets in supermarkets. Harder to find, but far superior, are the long elegant Lebanese pine nuts. You will probably be able to find them in a specialist nut shop or Middle Eastern store, and they are well worth tracking down for their creamy soft texture, and buttery flavour with more complex piney overtones.

Like all nuts, pine nuts are high in fat (mostly unsaturated), which means they should be stored in the refrigerator and used quickly.

Using pine nuts

Many dishes around the Middle East and Mediterranean use pine nuts as a pleasing crunchy garnish for salads and rice dishes. As with most nuts, toasting or frying intensifies and mellows their flavour. But watch them carefully so that they don’t burn. It is probably wise to toast them in a dry frying pan, rather than roast them in the oven, as this gives you far greater control. It only takes a few minutes of gentle tossing over a low to medium heat. Don’t get impatient and leave them to sit still, as they burn surprisingly quickly.

Like many other nuts, pine nuts are also a sublime ingredient in confectionery, and are a firm favourite in Mediterranean countries. The Italians make them into a praline, croccante di pignoli, which is often scented with lemon or orange peel, and they work equally well in buttery sweet biscuits and in almondy tarts, such as the provençal tarte aux pignons.

Recipes in this Chapter

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