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.
Penne with red pepper pesto
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.
Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.