Pine nuts come from pine cones. The harvest is labor intensive since the cones have to be heated to open up their scales and loosen the nuts free, then each small pine nut has to be peeled. They are high in protein (up to 35%) and have a high amount of good fat. I recommend buying refrigerated or even frozen pine nuts to preserve their flavor. Pine nuts can get rancid in a few days in warm storage conditions. I was fortunate to grow up close to the Italian border where we were able to buy a great deal of superb pine nuts. In my opinion Italian pine nuts are terrific and have a consistently good quality compared to pine nuts from elsewhere. Asian pine nuts can give you the “pine mouth” which is a bitter taste that can linger for several days on your taste buds! Surprisingly no one has found an explanation why this happens sometimes.
(pine nut crusted fluke with spaghetti squash and cranberry leather)
Pine nut & fish cookery
I revisited cooking with pine nuts a few days ago. It started to snow and I knew from the past that would change the number of people what will come to the restaurant that night. Originally I had planned an elegant raw fluke-fish appetizer which would have been enough fish for about 30 appetizer portions – meaning at the end of the day that is usually gone – but that day it wasn’t going to happen with the snow storm moving into New York City! We changed course and the fluke became our entrée du jour – pine nut crusted fluke so that we’d have no leftovers. I knew pine nut crusting the fish worked since in the past years one of my signature dishes was halibut crusted with pine nut. The richness of the pine nuts is an ideal barrier to protect lean fish such as fluke or halibut from drying out in a hot skillet. When you squeeze a single pine nut between your thumb and pointer finger you’ll see a great deal of natural pine nut fat keeps the fish dish beautifully moist. The dish received rave reviews from our guests that night.
Chef’s nut crusting tips:
- Toast pine nuts on a baking sheet for 8 minutes at 300 degree Fahrenheit
- Fold toasted pine nuts into a towel then crush gently with a heavy object such as a sauce pot
- Season skinless fish filet with salt and a touch of cayenne
- Gently press fish inside (inside of fish filet versus side where skin was attached) into crushed pine nuts
- Cook fish on medium to low heat setting (ensures that nuts won’t burn and get bitter)
Italian-American cookie language
You can be assured if you go into an Italian bakery you’ll find a pine nut-sugar cookie – a pignoli. My American family is part Italian so when I’m cooking with pine nuts it makes me smile since I often have to think about how my spouse’s mother Marie pronounces pignoli with an Italian accent