Ancient Romans preserved pine nuts in honey, pressed them into wine and used them in sausage. Nicknamed pinoccoli or pinocchi in Italy, this popular nut was the inspiration for Pinocchio's name, because his nose is shaped like a pine nut.
Pine nuts, also known as pignoli, pignolia, pinon and Indian nuts, are creamy white in color, soft, sweet and chewy. The tiny, torpedo-shaped kernels measure about one-half inch long. They are harvested from the cones of about 20 varieties of pine trees. The Mediterranean or Italian pine nut is the one most commonly found in the U.S. It comes from the Stone Pine tree.
Pine Nut Nutrition
A serving of pine nuts (one ounce or 1/4 cup, about 160 kernels) contains about 190 calories, is a good source of copper (.38mg), magnesium (71mg), and zinc (1.8mg). Pine nuts are surpassed only by almonds and hazelnuts in Vitamin E content of nuts and supply nearly 20 percent of the Daily Value for Vitamin K (15 micrograms), important for blood clotting and bone health.
As with all nuts, the fat is mostly good-for-you mono and polyunsaturated. Pine nuts also contain phytosterols - plant compounds that block cholesterol's absorption - at twice the level found in walnuts.
Pine Nut Research
Research on pine nuts is scant. But experts agree that eating a small handful of any nut regularly can confer health benefits. Eating an ounce of nuts (any nut) more than 5 times a week may reduce your risk of heart disease by 25 percent to 39 percent, according to Penn State researchers, who reviewed 16 major studies. And at least five ounces of nuts a week might lower risk of type 2 diabetes, according to the Women's Health Study. Researchers suspect that the high unsaturated fat content of nuts can also steady blood sugar levels and insulin balance. Nuts can even be a diet aid, a satisfying and portable snack, as long as you limit portion size.
Eating Pine Nuts
Toasting pine nuts brings out their rich flavor. To toast, spread on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degree for 5 to 10 minutes until golden brown. Pine nuts are ideal for stuffings, salads and baked goods. Add them to ground meat for meatballs. Their creamy texture makese them an essential ingredient in pesto sauce or you can make a smooth and creamy salad dressing by combining them in a food processor or blender with a little olive oil, herbs and lemon juice or vinegar. Pine nus are more expensive than most nuts, because those tiny nuts are more labor-intensive to harvest. But a little does go a long way.
Recipe: Orange and Pine Nut Biscotti
There are basically two kinds of biscotti in the world, those made with butter or oil, and those made without. Frankly, the latter are more authentically Italian, and especially crunchy. Try these dipped in any citrus-flavored or Earl Grey tea.
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
Grated zest of 1 orange
2 large eggs, beaten, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup pine nuts
Position racks in the center and top third of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Beat the butter, sugar, and orange zest together in a medium bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until light in color and texture, about 3 minutes. Do not overmix. Gradually beat in the eggs, then the vanilla. Gradually stir in the flour mixture to make a stiff dough. Stir in the pine nuts.
Divide the dough in half. Using lightly floured hands on a floured work surface, form the dough into two 10 x 2-inch rectangular logs - make the ends flat, not pointed. Transfer the logs to a baking sheet, placing them at least 2 inches apart. Bake on the center rack of the oven until the logs are set and golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet for 20 minutes.
Using a serrated knife and a sawing motion, carefully cut the logs into diagonal slices about 1/2 inch wide. Place the slices on ungreased baking sheets. Bake until the under sides of the biscotti are lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Turn the biscotti over. Switch the position of the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back. Continue baking until lightly browned on the other side, about 8 minutes longer. Let cool completely on the baking sheets. (The biscotti can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week.)
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