The Holy Grail of Pine Nuts

Available only a couple of months each year, Italian pine nuts are worth the hunt—and the expense

When the weather heats up, I begin to want basil at every meal. And where there’s basil, pine nuts are usually close by. My search for the best pine nuts, which I’ve written about before in Taste of Orange County, recently took a very good turn.

Last week at a Melissa’s Produce book event for Cheryl Sternman Rule’s excellent new “Yogurt Culture” (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $22), one of the dishes from the book served was simple: Greek yogurt topped with a lemon vinaigrette and toasted pine nuts, served with pita wedges for dipping. The combination of thick, tangy yogurt and mildly lemony vinaigrette was somehow miles more inspired than the usual olive-oil drizzle, and the platter looked beautiful on the buffet. But what first caught my eye from across the room were the pine nuts themselves. I could see they were different, larger and more elongated, than the ones I can usually find, and tasting affirmed that they were richly nutty and aromatic. Turns out, they were the elusive—and superior—Italian pinoli.

Robert Schueller, Melissa’s director of public relations, says the Italian variety is available for a couple of months during the year, after which it’s back to imports from China. So now’s the time. They’re widely available wherever Melissa’s products are sold, and are a little pricier than other pine nuts—a 2-ounce package is about $7. I stopped in my local Trabuco Canyon Haggen over the weekend and saw them in the produce department. I’m glad they’re available so close to home—I’ve got pesto to make. Look for the “Yogurt Culture” dip recipe in an upcoming post.

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