Saturday, July 30, 2011


Pine nuts at the source.
I was having a quiet breakfast on the terrace, eating fresh-picked strawberries with yogurt and savoring a cup of tea, when CRASH, a missile hit the deck right beside me, sending shrapnel in all directions. I looked skyward, into the tops of a towering pine tree on the other side of the patio wall, and, there they were, potential missiles just waiting for a strong wind to bring them down on my head.

The missiles were heavy pine cones and the “shrapnel” the scattered pieces of the pine cone and the small pine nuts that exploded from it. I moved my breakfast table from under the danger zone and proceeded to gather the tiny nuts.

If this looks like manna from heaven, let me hasten to tell you that pine nuts are devilishly difficult to extract. First you have to prise them out of the pine cones (yes, whacking them on the terrace floor helps), then crack each bitsy nut, hopefully without smashing the kernel in the act.

My grandson Leo is much more adept at cracking pine nuts than I. The problem, though, is that he eats them as he cracks them.

 These are the nuts (actually, seeds) of the Mediterranean stone pine (Pinus pinea). They are long and slender compared to the smaller imported Chinese pine nuts.

Mediterranean pine nuts on the left, Chinese on the right.

A recent posting by blogger Dianne Jacob (Will Write for Food, ) warns pine nut fanciers of the taste-altering effects of some varieties of Chinese pine nuts.

In Spain, pine nuts go into a stuffing for turkey; along with raisins, they’re tossed with chard or spinach. They adorn tiny Christmas cookies or are coated in sugar syrup. Where pine trees grow, such as in the marismas, marshlands, of the Guadalquivir River basin, pine-nuts might be used instead of almonds for white gazpacho. Or combined with clams in a tasty hot soup. 

Because I also had a supply of fresh basil, I decided to use my pine nuts to make pesto, that Italian sauce for pasta.

Pine nuts, garlic, ham and basil for anti-pesto.

But, why mess up those delicate little pine nuts by crushing them? Instead I invented  ANTI-PESTO—a quick sauté, some grated cheese (Spanish Manchego, preferably aged, instead of Parmesan), lots of fresh basil. Really easy, so fresh.


Cook 1 pound of linguine or spaghetti until done to taste.

While pasta is cooking, heat ¼ cup olive oil in a small skillet. Add ½ cup (3 ounces) pine nuts, 3 cloves of garlic sliced crosswise, and ½ cup (2 ounces) chopped serrano ham. Fry until garlic and pine nuts are golden. Remove.

Drain the pasta, saving some of the cooking liquid. Return the pasta to the pan. Add the pine nuts, garlic, ham and all of the oil and toss. Stir in 1 ¼ cup (3 ounces) grated Manchego cheese. Add about ½ cup of the reserved pasta water. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir in 1 cup shredded fresh basil leaves. Serve immediately. 

Pasta with pine nuts, basil, ham and garlic.

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