Pine nuts (Recipe: toasted piñon shortbread)
After the soggiest, cloudiest, buggiest Spring and early Summer here in rural Rhode Island, my basil plants have perked up. In fact, they're in need of a trim, and that means pesto, and that means pine nuts.
Or pinocchi, pinhao, pinolos, pinoccoli ....
Whatever you call them, pine nuts are the edible seeds of pine trees: European stone pine, Colorado and Mexican pinyon, and Korean pine, which provide most of what's found in our markets. It takes 15-25 years for a tree to begin producing seeds. They are picked from the ground, taken from squirrel caches, or extracted by hand from the cones — a costly harvesting process that explains the high price of pine nuts.
The high oil content of pine nuts (all nuts, really) means they will turn rancid quickly if not stored properly, especially when you buy them shelled, as most of us do. Keep nuts in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a month, or in the freezer for several months. Though pine nuts can be eaten raw, they have better flavor when toasted for 2-3 minutes in a dry frying pan until just slightly golden.
Pine nuts pack a nutritional wallop, too, containing approximately 31 grams of protein per 100 grams of nuts, the highest of any nut or seed.
I haven't tried making Pine Nut Aphrodisiac Soup, or Todd English's recipe for Pine Nut Coated Octopus with Tomato Tapenade, but fresh pesto made with good-quality pine nuts, real Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, fruity olive oil, and basil pulled right from the garden makes me swoon. And that's the recipe* I was going to share with you, until I found this one:
Toasted piñon shortbread
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma's New American Cooking. Makes 30 cookies.
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup piñon nuts or other pine nuts
1-1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of kosher salt
1 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into Tbsp-sized pieces
Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.
In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, nuts, cinnamon and salt. Pulse 10 times to combine the ingredients and to coarsely chop the nuts. Add the butter and process until the mixture just comes together into a ball. (The dough may be wrapped and refrigerated at this point for up to 2 days.) On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough 1/2-inch thick. Using a 2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out the cookies. Reroll the scraps, and cut out more cookies until the dough is used up. Place cookies on the baking sheet, and put the baking sheet in the refrigerator or freezer to chill for 1 hour. (The cookies may be frozen on the tray at this point, then transferred to a plastic bag; they will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month.) Bake the cookies, in batches, until slightly puffed and firm but not browned, approx. 45 minutes. Transfer the baking sheet to a rack and let cool for 10 minutes, then transfer the cookies to the rack and let cool completely.
*And here's the pesto, because it's too good not to share.
Eat this with someone you love. Makes enough to sauce 1-1/2 lbs pasta, or use as a sandwich spread.
2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup fresh pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Place basil, nuts, garlic, salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse until chopped. With the machine running, add olive oil in a stream until desired consistency is achieved. Stir in the cheese. Serve right away, or cover and refrigerate for up to three days. Can be frozen.