Pine nuts (Recipe: penne with roasted red pepper pesto)
When I look out the window in front of my desk, I see pine trees.
And out the kitchen window? Pine trees.
And from the windows in the living room, bedroom, porch? Pines, pines, pines.
Pine trees everywhere, but not a single pine nut to eat.
How is that possible?
Well, pine nuts are the edible seeds of pine trees, but not of the white pines that thrive here in New England. Most pine nuts (also called pignoli or piñon) in our markets come from European stone pine, Colorado and Mexican pinyon, or Korean pine.
It takes 15-25 years for a tree to begin producing the seeds, which must be picked from the ground, taken from squirrel caches, or extracted by hand from the pine cones -- a costly harvesting process that explains the high price of pine nuts.
Though pine nuts can be eaten raw, a bit of toasting for 2-3 minutes in a dry nonstick frying pan until just slightly golden will bring out their distinctive mild flavor. Because they have a high oil content, they will turn rancid quickly. Store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a month, or in the freezer for up to six months.
You can toast pine nuts directly from the freezer without defrosting. Then, use them to make sweet or savory dishes like semolina bread with fennel and currants, cardamom and pine nut pears, cod with a codfish-pine nut crust, pine nut tartelettes, spinach, feta and pine nut pastry, roasted Brussels sprouts, or pine nut and chick pea soup.
Pine nuts are one of the ingredients I keep in the pantry to inspire my weeknight cooking; a few toasted nuts tossed here and there can elevate a simple dish to elegant heights. Weeknight -- worknight -- dinners are one of the specialties of my new adopted blogger, so this is a perfect time to introduce her to you.
In the past two years, inspired by the wonderful Adopt-a-Blogger program (founded by Kristen of Dine and Dish) that matches less experienced food bloggers with mentors to help them hone their blogging skills, I've adopted From Argentina With Love and Inn Cuisine. My role is to help my adoptees in any way I can, with advice and technical support and encouragement, like any good mom.
Today I'd like you to meet the newest member of our blog "family". Maris, a publicist for a large public relations firm, works in New York City, loves to cook, has an active twenty-something life, and chronicles her adventures in (and, occasionally, out of) the kitchen in her blog, In Good Taste. We met at the BlogHer Boston conference last October.
"Living alone in your twenties doesn’t have to mean fast food and a fridge full of beer and ketchup," Maris says on her Enough About Me page, and that's the basis for many of the recipes you'll find on In Good Taste. You'll also find suggestions for things to make when your new boyfriend comes for dinner, when you have a few friends over for a party, or when you're cooking for a family get-together.
I especially love her Worknight Dinners, meals that can be made ahead and come together quickly without relying on take-out or fast food. Take a look for yourself; you'll find some great recipes.
Penne with red pepper pesto
One of my favorite features on In Good Taste is Worknight Dinners, meals that you can make ahead and that come together quickly. This recipe comes together in the time it takes to cook the pasta, which can be any shape from rotini to spaghetti. You can make the pesto days ahead, and refrigerate or freeze it. Add some cooked shrimp or canned white beans or sharp kalamata olives (or all three) at the end, for a nice variation. Serves 6.
1 lb penne (or pasta of your choice)
1/2 cup pine nuts
12 oz roasted red peppers (I use good quality store-bought)
1/2 cup firmly packed fresh parsley leaves (reserve a few leaves for garnish)
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 pinch of mild red pepper flakes (optional, to taste)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of water to boil, and cook pasta according to package directions.
While the pasta is cooking, toast the pine nuts in a dry nonstick frying pan over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, shaking or stirring frequently, until the nuts are just lightly browned. Add the nuts to the food processor, along with all remaining ingredients. Blend until smooth. (Can be made ahead.)
Drain the pasta, but do not rinse. Add to a large bowl with as much of the pesto as you like to coat the pasta, and stir to combine. Garnish with reserved parsley leaves. Serve hot or at room temperature.