Pine nuts are among the costliest of nuts, due to the labour-intensive extraction of seeds from the cones of the stone pine. They are much used in Arabic cooking, and in countries where Arab culture has left its mark. In Italy pignoli are as essential as basil, pecorino cheese and olive oil in the pounding up of a pesto. In Catalonia, they are important in picada - a paste of pine nuts, garlic, herbs, olive oil and fried bread, added to a stew of meat, fish or vegetables to provide thickening and flavour. Known charmingly as the 'caviar of the forest', they are also used there in the Arab fashion to embellish sweet pasteles (little cakes).
Pine nuts are frequently used in savoury dishes in Sicily, such as a caponata of sauteed aubergines, peppers, celery and tomatoes with vinegar, raisins and capers. Claudia Roden in her Book of Middle Eastern Food describes a delicious Sicilian dish of onions, cooked until melting, combined with gently sauteed courgettes, then heated for 10 minutes with some raisins, vinegar, salt and pepper, before serving mixed with a handful of toasted pine nuts.
She also gives the recipe for the luxurious Lebanese sauce tarator, served with fish. It is made with 12oz of pine nuts, processed in a blender with two slices of crustless bread (soaked in water and squeezed out), two cloves of garlic, salt, pepper, the juice of a lemon or two, and enough water to make up half a pint of liquid. Pine nuts are crunchy, with a faint raw taste of pine resin, but they jump to life as soon as they are lightly heated to assume a rich, sweet, nutty flavour. You can fry them gently in a little oil and drain them, or 'toast' them in a dry non-stick pan until they start to colour.
In modern Californian cooking, lightly
toasted pine nuts are often strewn on a salad of dressed mixed leaves. The following summer-
fresh recipe comes, perhaps surprisingly, from
a cookbook put out by the health-conscious
community of Seventh Day Adventists. It's a dessert known as pignolia.
1/2 lb/225g hulled strawberries
2oz/55g pine nuts
1 tablespoon of best honey
Put strawberries, honey and pine nuts into a blender and reduce to a creamy, smooth puree. Chill. Just before serving, cover with sliced bananas. You can make larger quantities and keep some back to serve as a breakfast topping for cereal or granola, with milk or yogurt.Reuse content