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Saturday, April 28, 2018

Pignons de Pin - Pine Nuts from Pine Cones. Pine Nuts in French cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan Newman

Stone pine nuts.
Also called umbrella pine nuts

Texture is just as important as taste in French cuisine, and fresh pine nuts add texture with a soft buttery taste. Toasted or grilled pine nuts add a slight crunch and a nutty flavor.

France’s love for pine nuts began with Catherine de Medici who brought Italian tastes and techniques to France.  Then, at the age of 14, she came from Florence, Italy, in 1533 to marry France’s future King Henry II.  One of the recipes she brought was Italy’s original pesto sauce with pine nuts.  (Pesto sauce on French menus is pesto or pistou). 

The stone or umbrella pine, home to the best pine nuts.

Nearly all pine trees have pine cones, and from the outside, many look very similar; however, finding the cone with the tastiest nut is not that simple.  The best pine nuts, seen in the picture below come from the stone pine, also called the umbrella pine, and no serious French or Italian chef would ever consider using any other.
Balance is important and in salads, pine nuts create harmony between soft, springy vegetables and other crunchy ingredients. 
Look at the role of pine nuts in French salads:
Salade de Chèvre Chaud sur Toast,  Lardons, Haricots Verts, Pignon de Pin –A salad of warm goat’s cheese served on toast accompanied by bacon pieces, fresh green beans, and pine nuts.
Salade de Roquette aux Oignons Caramélisés et Pignons Grilles – A rocket salad served with caramelized onions and grilled pine nuts. 

Salade de Jeunes Pousses aux Pignons de Pin Torréfiés – A salad of young vegetable sprouts and leaves prepared with toasted pine nuts.  N.B. Grilled, toasted or roasted pine nuts have a crunchy texture and a stronger taste than fresh nuts.

The stone pine cone
The stone pine had been growing all around the Mediterranean for tens of thousands of years before Catherine de Medici brought the recipe for pesto sauce to France. Furthermore, long before Catherine came those two Mediterranean imperialists, the Greeks and Romans had come to France with their own pine nut recipes. The Greeks came to France around 600 BCE, where they founded the port that would later be called Marseilles, followed five hundred years later by the Romans who colonized the whole of France beginning in 53 BCE.  For pine nuts in a French cuisine, the fight was led in the 1600s by François Pierre de la Varenne who broke with Italian traditions and added new interpretations that would bring pine nuts into the developing French cuisine.  

Pine nuts on French menus:

Filet de Caille Poêlé Servi sur une Salade Tiède, Pignons de Pin et Coulis de Framboise et Balsamique - Lightly fried quail’s breast served on a warm salad with pine nuts and flavored with pureed raspberries with balsamic vinegar.
Gambas Marinées à l'Ail, Huile d'Olive, Citron, Ciboulette, Pignons de Pin, Choux Chinois – Large shrimps flavored with garlic and marinated in olive oil, lemon, chives, and served with pine nuts and crunchy Chinese cabbage.
Huîtres Chaudes Gratinées aux Pignons de Pin Cèpes et Jambon Serrano – Warmed oysters lightly covered with cheese and browned under the grill served with pine nuts, French porcini mushrooms, and serrano ham. (Serrano ham is a dry cured ham; the name is generic and translates as mountain ham).

Soupe Froide de Concombre à la Menthe, Feta et Pignons de Pin Torréfiés – A cold cucumber soup flavored with mint, feta cheese, and roasted pine nuts.

Suprême de Pintade Label Rouge aux Pignons de Pin et Orange, Légumes  - Breast of red label guinea fowl prepared with an orange sauce with pine nuts accompanied by vegetables. (Label Rouge, red label poultry are among the best that France has to offer).

Toasted stone pine nuts
There are stone pine forests all over France from the department of Haut-Rhine in the region of Le Grande Est in the north to the center in the region of Centre-Val de Loire, and down to the north of Corsica. Despite all the trees, most of the stone pine nuts in French cuisine and in French supermarkets will have come from Spain; they cost less.
The cost of pine nuts

Pine nuts must be extracted from the pine cones by hand, and that makes them expensive. Most of the cheaper pine nuts come from the Korean pine, botanic name pinus koraiensis, and are they are imported from China.  (The European stone pine’s botanic name is pinus pinea).  The Chinese pine nuts are pear-shaped and shorter and have been an important part of Chinese for far longer than the stone pine nuts in Europe.  With arguments over the taste and texture of different pine nuts going on forever most French chefs still insist that the stone pine nuts are better; they use them despite prices that can be five or six times higher than the Chinese pine nuts. 

Chinese pine nuts
Are there organic pine nuts?

Pine nuts come from trees that will never have seen an insecticide and so long as they are handled correctly they automatically qualify as organic.

The long pine needles from the stone pine.

Pin Parasol, Pin Pignon, Pinier, Pin d’Italie - The stone pine, parasol pine, umbrella pine,  or  Italian stone pine in the languages of France’s neighbors:

(Catalan - pi pinyer, pi ver), (Dutch - parasolden), (German – pinie, Italienische steinkiefer), (Italian - Pino domestico ), (Spanish -pino piñonero, pino doncel), (Botanic name - pinus pinea).

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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2018.

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