Be a Home Superstar Chef (Part 3 – Pine Nuts)

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It may seem strange that edible seeds found inside of pine cones are something that could elevate your cooking ability, but pine nuts are versatile and bring a lot to the table. The delicious taste of a toasted pine nut enhances both sweet and savory dishes.

To me, the flavor of toasted pine nuts is reminiscent of a sugar cone for ice cream. While they can be eaten raw, they don’t have much flavor until toasted. To toast pine nuts either place them on a baking sheet and put them into a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes, tossing them once after 5 minutes, or tossing them often in a dry pan over medium heat. They will take on a golden hue and smell sweet and nutty.

Pine nuts can be used to top cookies, cakes, salads, or added to pasta. Their mild, nutty, slightly sweet flavor can make an average dish pop with new life. They have a wonderful texture that is quite unique. They don’t quite crunch, but they add that sort of mouthfeel to a dish.

My favorite use for pin nuts, however, is probably the most commonly way they are utilized…in pesto. It is incredibly easy to make, and once you do, you will never buy it pre-made again. Here is a very basic recipe for it that is easily expanded upon.

Basic Pesto

3 oz pine nuts (toasted)
3 oz pecans (toasted)
4 peeled cloves of garlic
2 cups fresh basil (pack it in pretty tight)
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup of parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Put the garlic into a food processor and pulse a couple of times. Add the pecans and pulse another two times. Dump in the pine nuts and the basil and give it a couple more pulses. Turn the food processor on and slowly drizzle the olive oil until incorporated. Do not over process the mixture. Add the cheese, salt and pepper and pulse a couple more times. Make sure to scrape down the sides anytime during the process when needed.

Toss this with some hot pasta, or just smear it on some bread. Pair pesto with a Sonoma Zinfandel, an Italian Sangiovese-based wine, or bright Provencal Rose’.

As much as I love pesto, don’t let it be the only thing that you use pine nuts for. Most home cooks do not use this delicious ingredient. Add it to your repertoire and it will help you attain superstar status.