Pine nuts are small creamy-coloured seeds of the stone pine. They smell sweet and aromatic when fresh and have a nutty creamy taste. They’re difficult to harvest, so you pay more for them than for other nuts. Korean pine nuts are somewhat squat, creamy-coloured and with a rich almost fatty flavour. Mediterranean pine nuts, considered premium, are paler in colour, more slender in shape and have a sweet flavour. Though they’re more nutritious than the Korean variety, with a lower fat and a higher protein content, all pine nuts are nutritious and rich in antioxidants. Too often pine nuts are past their best. Avoid yellowing nuts – they’re likely to be rancid, and crumbly ones, too, which are often soft and unfresh. Keep them fresh in a sealed bag or container in the freezer and use them straight from the freezer – they don’t freeze solid.
Pine nuts are good in sweet and savoury dishes. Cooking makes them crisper and enhances their nuttiness. To dry-roast pine nuts, spread them on an ovenproof tray and cook in an oven preheated to 150°C for about 5 minutes – watch them like a hawk as they quickly burn – or dry-roast them in a small pan over a moderate heat. Toss frequently in the pan to ensure even browning. Pine nuts can also be browned in a microwave. Start slowly with a small handful spread out on a plate and microwave in 30-second increments, allowing for residual heat which will keep cooking them. They are delicious when lightly fried and finished with sea salt. Use just a slick of oil or smidgen of butter in a pan heated to medium, add nuts and cook, stirring often, until a pale biscuit colour, then transfer to a plate lined with paper towels and sprinkle with sea salt. Toasted pine nuts will stay fresh in an airtight container for a few days, ready to add a rich and scrumptious finish to a salad, vegetables or a sauced meat or fish dish.