Small, oblong edible seeds from several varieties of pine trees. There are two main varieties, and both nuts are an ivory color that averages about 1/2 inch long. The Mediterranean or Italian (pignolia) stone pine nut is torpedo-shaped and has a light delicate flavor. The Chinese pine nut has a strong, pungent flavor and is shaped like a squat triangle. Pine nuts are somewhat more expensive than other nuts, due to a labor-intensive harvesting process. The pine cones that contain the nuts must be collected from the tree or forest floor. The cones are then heated, which opens up their scales and loosens the nuts. The nuts are often lightly roasted to improve their flavor.
Season: available year-round
How to select: Find with other nuts in the market. The best time to gather pine nuts is in mid-to-late October after the first frost opens the cones but before the first snow covers up the nuts that have fallen.
How to store: Will go rancid quickly. Store in the freezer for up to 9 months, or refrigerator for 1 month. Unshelled pine nuts have a long shelf life if kept dry and refrigerated.
How to prepare: Toast in a dry skillet over medium heat or on a baking sheet in the oven at 350 for a few minutes to bring out their natural flavors. Toasting is especially important if the nuts have been frozen which tends to give them a soft, flabby texture.
Matches well with: meat, fish, chocolate