Indian nuts were what we called them, those soft, faintly sweet nuts with a flavor so delicate that you weren't sure you were really tasting them. And they always came in shells, so we cracked them with our teeth to extract those tiny morsels, the only example of patience I ever exhibited in my entire youth. There were two kinds of Indian-nut eaters: those who cracked and ate them one by one, never getting a fully satisfying bite; and those who cracked and saved them until there was a handful of shelled nuts to chew in one grand, delicious, extravagant gesture. I vacillated.
Then I grew up and discovered pine nuts. Already shelled. And I still can't get enough of them.
So one night, in the handful-at-once spirit, I made an entire pine nut dinner. It was not what anybody would call a well-balanced menu, but then neither is Jean-Louis restaurant's truffle dinner, and they charge $120 for it.
Like most fantasies come true, this pine nut dinner fell slightly short of what it should have been. I learned from the experience that, except for pesto, pine nuts taste best -- and contribute most to a dish -- when they are toasted. And they mate well with sharp flavors such as lemon and mustard. Finally, I came to understand that few recipes call for enough pine nuts. With those lessons in mind, this is what will be my next pine nut dinner: Miniature pine nut pancakes Pistou Pine nut pork cutlets Michel Fitoussi's pine nut salad Italian pine nut cookies MINIATURE PINE NUT PANCAKES
The pine nut pancakes are a bother, exorbitant, and not worth it. But everybody should taste them once. Simply grind the nuts finely in a blender or food processor and stir in just enough water to make a thick paste. You need about a tablespoon of nuts for each silver-dollar-size pancake. Heat butter in a frying pan until it foams and lower the heat so the butter does not burn, then drop in spoonfuls of pine nut batter. Brown on one side and turn (that's the hard part), then brown on the other side. Drain on paper towels, salt and serve. They are tiny, nutty crunches, difficult to make without breaking, and much too extravagant to serve to anybody but the cook and whoever is standing around the kitchen helping. PISTOU
Pistou is no mystery, simply a good homemade vegetable soup with a spoonful of pesto stirred into each bowl as it is served. Pesto (see recipe in accompanying story), a coarse puree of pine nuts, parmesan cheese, garlic, fresh basil and olive oil, should be made in the summer, when you can find fresh basil, and kept in the freezer. It is the only recipe I know that successfully used untoasted pine nuts. And once you discover this wonderful combination of flavors, you are likely to stir a bit into nearly everything you make. MICHEL FITOUSSI'S PINE NUT SALAD (4 servings)
Michel Fitoussi is chef at the Palace restaurant in New York and has very firm ideas on how any dish should be prepared. For this salad, the greens must be strong ones to stand up to the heavy dressing. The greens and dressing must be very cold, and the nuts must be toasted at the last minute so that their heat contrasts with the temperature of the salad. He likes to decorate the salad with a little julienned pigeon or rabbit, but that, of course, is optional. 4 endives or other strong salad greens such as arugola or hearts of palm 1 cup creme fraiche 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1/4 teaspoon dijon mustard Salt and pepper to taste 1/4 cup pine nuts
Arrange the salad greens on four plates. Mix the creme fraiche, lemon juice and mustard at the last minute, or the lemon juice will curdle the cream. jSeason the drizzle over the greens. Toast the pine nuts until golden, and sprinkle, while hot, on top of the salad. PINE NUT PORK CUTLETS (4 servings) 8 pork cutlets, about 1/4 pound each (veal or boneless chicken breast can be substituted) 1 clove garlic, mashed Salt, pepper, thyme to taste 6 tablespoons pine nuts 2 tablespoons butter, more if necessary 1 tablespoon oil 1/2 cup white wine 1 teaspoon dijon mustard Juice of 1/2 lemon 1 teaspoon butter
Pound pork cutlets to slightly flatten. Rub both sides of each cutlet with garlic, then sprinkle with salt, pepper and thyme. Grind pine nuts in blender, spice grinder or food processor and press them into the cutlets to cover the surface as much as possible. The cutlets can be prepared ahead to this point and refrigerated. Heat the butter and oil in a skillet and saute the cutlets, being careful not to crowd them. Add more butter if necessary. Brown on both sides, turning carefully to retain the pine nut coating, and cook through, about 10 minutes total, until the pork is no longer pink inside. Remove to platter. Pour excess oil from the pan and deglaze with the wine and mustard, scraping the pan to incorporate all the browned bits. Boil the wine down to about half, add lemon juice and swirl in the teaspoon of butter. Pour over cutlets, serve immediately. ITALIAN PINE NUT COOKIES (3 dozen cookies)
These cookies are barely sweet, with a testure similar to shortbread. They would be delicious dunked in sweet wine as they are eaten, in the Italian style. Be sure not to let them get too brown when baking; they are best when just beginning to darken. 1 3/4 cups flour Dash of salt 1/2 cup sugar 2 eggs 1/2 cup olive oil Grated rind of 1 lemon 1 egg yolk 1/2 cup pine nuts
Mix together flour, salt and sugar. Stir in the 2 eggs, olive oil and lemon rind; mix well. Roll dough on floured board to about 1/4-inch thickness and cut into strip 1-inch-by-2-inches. Brush with egg yolk and sprinkle with pine nuts. Bake on greased baking sheet at 325 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.