PINE NUTS

The pine nut is a tiny little unassuming nut; crunchy, slightly sweet, and pungent. The retronasal effect of nibbling a pine nut indeed brings hints of pine and greenery to mind.

pestopinenutsPine nuts have been part of the human diet all over the globe since pre-history. If you’re wondering whether or not you have ever tasted a pine nut, it is worth remembering whether or not you’ve ever had pesto. Pesto is a blend of pine nuts, basil, olive oil, garlic, and pecorino cheese. Yum.

In the U.S. southwest, pine nuts are found in many sweet and savory dishes, and also dark roasted and served as a coffee.  One of my absolute favorite pine nut dishes is a pie made similarly to pecan pie but using instead pine nuts. It is divine. There is something refreshing about the pine nuts that cuts through sweetness of the creamy caramel middle and just makes the whole thing a taste explosion that rivals symphonic immersion. Oh yes, I like pine nut pie very, very much. (:

Pine nuts can also be lightly toasted and tossed in with other dishes as a finishing touch that adds complexity and depth. They are a key ingredient in a variety of global culinary endeavors, such as kibbeh, chestnut/pine nut stuffing, and various traditional Italian dishes.

The use of pine nuts has been recorded in Paleolithic peoples on every continent from Europe to Asia and through the Americas. Like many foods, the pine nut comes with an interesting and complex political history, especially in the U.S. where they were once a staple food for many tribes of Native peoples, several of whom still have treaties insuring harvesting rights each year. (a topic, entirely too complex to go into in this brief post but worth checking out if you are at all curious   It could be nice to keep in mind the depth and breadth of this little nut as you bring them into your kitchen.

From a health perspective, pine nuts are a great source of protein, good fat, and iron. They can give you a boost in energy and also help reduce oxidative stress with their antioxidant properties. Research demonstrates that the pinolenic acid, a chemical compound found in the pine nut, can help curb appetite by slowing the absorption of food in the gut. (I don’t know whether that is a good or bad thing).  This little nut (which is actually a seed) is also packed with vitamins A, K, and magnesium, which make it a gem in the cardiovascular department.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you could try these recipes to give the pine nut a foothold in your kitchen:

Pesto

  • 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste

Combine basil, garlic and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until they are coarsely chopped. Drizzle in the olive oil and keep pulsing until the desired consistency. Mix in the cheese, add salt and pepper to taste and voila’... pesto.

Or you can try making a raw version of cheesecake using pine nuts instead of cashews. It’s also very creamy delicious and provides a full palate experience.

PineNut Cheesecake

Crust

  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened, dry coconut
  • 3 dates
  • Pinch Himalayan Salt

Place all ingredients in the food processor. Process until well ground. Press into a baking dish or springform pan.

Filling

  • 2 cups pine nuts, soaked overnight, drained and rinsed
  • 3/4  cup coconut butter (or coconut oil – the butter gives a richer, creamier texture)
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice (approximately 3 lemons)
  • 1/2 cup of date syrup or 8 dates soaked

Place pine nuts, coconut butter, lemon juice and dates in high-speed blender or vitamix. Blend until smooth. Pour over crust. Refrigerate until set. Top with flaked coconut, or other fruit, upon serving.