Pine nuts - Tender and delicious flavours of pine woods

The miniature essence of pine trees from Mediterranean woods, culinary creativity and hedonism have resulted in cult recipes where pine nuts are indispensable, notwithstanding the fact that they’re not the main ingredient. Pine nuts have left their mark on the Mediterranean’s culinary history by combining the sea, pine woods and fruits borne by the barren soil.

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Pine nuts are the edible seeds of pines, genus Pinus. Their harvest, processing and drying is no mean feat, while the small quantities are the primary reason why prices remain rather steep. Pine nuts are a member of the nuts family. They are fattier, possessing a sweet flavour and a gentler texture. They can be eaten raw, but they’re mostly fried in an empty pan so as to intensify their flavour and texture.

Being a typical Mediterranean ingredient and in accordance with culinary norms, they always go great with other Mediterranean representatives. The most famous one is pesto or sauce in which basil and olive oil are the main ingredients, apart from pine nuts. It goes great with boiled vegetables, raw or fried fish, it’s used in risottos or pasta, vegetable casseroles and it can be prepared with citrus fruit or pomegranate.

Whereas pine nuts are most commonly used to prepare appetizers or main courses, it’s a little-known fact that, being a typical representative of nuts, they make a phenomenal dessert ingredient. This is why we’ll start our restaurant-related pine nuts journey with desserts from Korčula. The gastronomy of Korčula’s interior, the small town of Pupnat and family tavern Mate are widely known. It should come as no surprise that their honest and daring approach to preparing food has been rewarded by including it in Michelin’s map of Croatia. Head chef Biljana Milina shared with us some of their sweet pine nut recipes.

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- We also add pine nuts to the crescent rolls we prepare using walnuts, almonds and egg whites. Once we make the crescent rolls mixture using egg whites and walnuts or almonds, we shape it into rolls, which are then dipped in pine nuts and we put them in the oven. We also prepare a simple flourless cake called kestenjača (chestnut cake). We need: chestnut flour, water, raisins, a bit of rosemary, salt, pine nuts and olive oil. Everything is stirred together and then oven-baked at 175 °C for about half an hour. Once the kestenjača is done, we cut it into slices locally called 'feta'. We can pour heated honey over the slices or serve them with whipped cream.

You’ll waste no time being spoiled by the family vibe of Zadar’s restaurant Bonaca and its classic Dalmatian dishes with pine nuts being a mandatory ingredient. Owner Ante Knežević shared with us a family pine nuts dressing recipe that can be served with both cold and warm salads, but it it can also be served as pesto with pasta to your liking.

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- The pine nuts have to be fried without fat. After that, they’re placed in a rag and crushed using a hammer. We add some olive oil to the crushed pine nuts. We also add a bit of water for them to expand, lemon juice and finely chopped parsley. This dressing goes great with cheeses or assorted salads. Pine nuts give a nice flavour and a somewhat sweet scent. This dressing may also be prepared with tagliatelle, with the only difference being that you needn’t add water.

The Mediterranean ambiance of Bol’s restorana Mali Raj lures with its culinary creations inspired by the Adriatic’s abundance and unique products that came to be thanks to the island climate. When it comes to fresh fish and sea food caught by the local fishermen, head chef Marko Marinović has managed to take them to another level by using the very best Mediterranean ingredients and pine nuts are definitely among them.

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- We often use pine nuts as decoration, as well as in making pasta. We prepare top-notch shrimp and pine nuts tagliatelle. We fry some finely chopped red onion and finely chopped garlic in olive oil, we add white wine and cleaned shrimp tails. Shrimp are a delicate ingredient and it only takes a couple of minutes to boil them. We add the pasta, fish stock, salt, pepper and finely chopped fresh parsley. Finally we roast the pine nuts in a pan without oil, we leave them to cool for a short while and sprinkle them on the tagliatelle.

Due to their gentle and unobtrusive aroma in comparison to other nuts, pine nuts are increasingly becoming a valuable culinary ally. However, if you choose your ingredients wisely, pine nuts make a great incentive to use other nuts in culinary adventures, particularly because their crunchy textures and intriguing flavours kick up even the simplest of dishes. 

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