Pining away.

From M.G., 6 May 2010, pine nuts: uses beyond pesto?

Q: I recently bought some pine nuts, as I had a lot of basil in the garden and made pesto. I still have half the packet of nuts left over, but have no really interesting ideas on how to use them. Can you suggest something quick and simple that can be done with pine nuts and a piece of meat in a frying pan?

A: Hello and thanks for your question. Pine nuts are among the finest flavored nuts, and you’re lucky to have leftovers. I can assure you that pine nuts have many uses beyond pesto.

Pine nuts – the seeds of various types of pine trees – lend their sweet, slightly resinous flavor to cuisines all over the world. Italians make use of the seed of the stone pine (pignoli) for pesto, as well as in cakes and as a garnish for savory dishes or pasta – such as the classic Venetian dish, sarde in saor, in which pine nuts and raisins accompany fried sardines in a wine vinegar dressing. Middle Eastern cuisine also features the pine nut in various forms – as a means of lightening and extending ground beef or lamb for kibbeh, or ground into flour to bake light cakes and biscuits. The Korean pine yields nuts for use in rice-based savory Korean dishes and cakes. In the United States, indigenous peoples in the West – Hopi, Shoshone, Washoe, and Paiute in Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico in particular – harvest pine nuts (piñon) to be roasted and salted, as well as for baked goods and candy.

Like all nuts, pine nuts are high in fat. In fact, some types of pine nuts are higher than fat than most other nuts, particularly the Korean varieties, which may be up to 78% fat. So to bring out their flavor, toast the nuts – either in a single layer on a baking sheet in the oven, or place them in a dry frying pan (e.g., without any oil) over medium low heat and stir occasionally, until the nuts just begin to brown. Then remove them from the pan. Don’t leave them in the pan past this point, and don’t be tempted by distractions and turn your back for even a moment – once they begin to turn golden, they will pass into inedibility and scorch more quickly than you can imagine. And because they’re high in fat, store them in a tightly sealed plastic container or zippered bag in the freezer.

You requested a simple recipe for pine nuts and meat. I generally don’t love pairing pine nuts with meats – they are very rich nuts, and meats tend to be rich, and it’s just too much. For me, they’re better in salads, with sauteed greens – especially beet greens, chard, spinach – or as a garnish for pasta or soup. So if you’re going to garnish meats with pine nuts, you need to add some sort of acid and ideally some fresh green herbs to cut through the richness.

Lamb rib chops, pine nuts, pomegranate molasses

Pomegranate molasses is pomegranate juice reduced to a thick syrup. It is becoming more widely available in grocery stores; if yours has an international foods section, you usually can find it among other Middle Eastern foods.

Be sure to toast the pine nuts before you cook the lamb. Rib chops cook quickly and only need to rest for a short time (a few minutes), because of their size. You won’t have time to toast the nuts after cooking the chops.

4 lamb rib chops, about 3.5 oz/100g each
salt and pepper
olive oil
juice of one lemon
1/4 c pine nuts, toasted as described above
2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
handful flat-leaf parsley, washed and spun dry

Season the chops with salt on both sides. Place a skillet over medium high heat and, when hot, add about 1 tbsp olive oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan.

Add the rib chops and reduce the heat slightly to medium. Cook for about 2 minutes on each side (more or less depending on thickness) until the meat is cooked to medium rare. Squeeze over the juice of one lemon, remove the chops from the pan and set on plates. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle each chop with about 1/2 tbsp of pomegranate molasses and garnish with parsley leaves and pine nuts.

Orecchiette with cauliflower and pine nuts

Pine nuts are a great addition to any pasta dish involving greens or cooked vegetables without a tomato sauce. In this dish, pimentón, or smoked paprika, adds a touch of bitterness to offset the fatty sweetness of pine nuts. Don’t be afraid to finish with a little olive oil.

If you like, you can add pancetta (or bacon for Americans – give the bacon a miss if you are Australian as yours is the wrong cut of meat for this dish). If using bacon rather than pancetta, omit the pimentón. The rendered bits of pork fat should be sufficient to keep the pasta dish moist without extra olive oil at the end.

1/2 lb (225g) short dry pasta with indentations, such as orecchiette or farfalle
1 lb (450g) cauliflower, cut into very small florets (about 1/4″) – also use the peeled stem
Optional: 4 oz (115g) American bacon, streaky bacon, or pancetta, diced (this is easiest to accomplish when the slices are frozen)
1/2 medium yellow onion, peeled and fine dice (1/4″)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 tsp pimentón de la vera, agridulce (bittersweet)
salt and pepper
olive oil
small handful of flat leaf parsley, washed and spun dry
1/3 c pine nuts, toasted as described above

Place a large pot of salted water to boil.

Meanwhile, place a skillet over medium heat and, when hot, add either 1 tbsp olive oil, or the bacon/pancetta (if using). If you are using the bacon/pancetta, fry until crisp and then, using a slotted spoon, remove just the meat bits from the pan and set aside, leaving about 2 1/2 tbsp oil behind. Add the diced onion and sauté until golden; add the garlic and cook a minute or two more, being careful not to let the garlic brown or it will be bitter.

Add the diced cauliflower and stir well to coat with oil. Add 1 tbsp water to the pan and stir, allowing the cauliflower to steam from the water added to the pan. Cook until the cauliflower are just tender and have lost the raw edge – do not overcook. Add the pimentón and sauté until fragrant.

Cook the pasta. Drain when al dente, reserving a couple of tablespoons of pasta water. Add the drained pasta to the vegetables and toss well over very low heat to coat. If using bacon/pancetta, add the meat back to the pan now. If the pasta seems even a little dry, add some reserved pasta water.

Transfer to bowls and finish with olive oil (if you didn’t use the bacon/pancetta), parsley leaves, and toasted pine nuts.

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