Sure, pesto is probably the best known of pine nut recipes, but there's so much you can do with these edible evergreen tree seeds. Making toasted pine nuts is an excellent way to harness their crunch and their relatively mild, oily flavor, both of which intensify with cooking. Toasted pine nuts are great sprinkled over certain fish and meat dishes, salads, pastas and more, and they significantly enhance veggie preparations like sauteed leafy greens and roasted carrot, broccoli or cauliflower recipes.
A word of caution, though: Because of their small size and high unsaturated fat content, pine nuts burn fairly easily while cooking. In fact, they pass from perfectly cooked to overcooked in less than a minute. A slower approach to toasting – especially doing it in the oven – reduces this risk, which is higher with other common toasting methods like on the stove top or in the microwave.
Prepping Oven-Toasted Pine Nuts
Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Using a low temperature gives you better control over the cooking, plus too high of an oven temperature can lead to popping pine nuts, and nobody wants that.
Place the pine nuts in a bowl and drizzle a little cooking oil over them. Use a teaspoon to apply the oil and continuously toss the seeds. The idea is to coat them as lightly as possible. Then, season them to taste. Use salt and pepper, but you can also use other herbs and spices that complement the dish for which you're using the toasted pine nuts.
For example, if you want to add some kick, toss them with a little curry powder or chili powder, or you could even toss them in a bit of hot sauce or Worcestershire sauce instead of cooking oil. A few other options include cumin, garlic powder or ground mustard seed. Alternatively, add a touch of sweetness with a sprinkle of brown sugar or a light drizzling of honey (the latter in lieu of cooking oil).
Oven-Toasting the Pine Nuts
Lay a piece of parchment paper on a baking tray and spread out the seasoned pine nuts in a single layer. Put the tray into the center of the oven and cook the pine nuts for two minutes. Then, toss them thoroughly with a spatula and arrange them back into a single spread-out layer.
Check on the pine nuts and toss them every two minutes. Cooking time is generally about six to eight minutes, but it varies by oven, size of the seeds and other factors. Keep in mind that smaller seeds toast faster, so if there's variety in your seeds' size, you might want to start removing the little ones while the larger ones finish cooking.
Determining Doneness of Pine Nuts
Since cooking time isn't such a reliable measure, go by appearance to determine doneness. You're looking for the toasted pine nuts to develop a pale golden to butterscotch color. Once they start turning a dark gold to brown, they're overcooked and are on the verge of burning. Burnt pine nuts aren't very good, but if you overcook them to the point of not wanting to use them on your food, grind them up with coffee beans and make yourself a nice, rich, nutty cup of coffee.
Transfer the seeds off the hot baking tray immediately to prevent burning. Once they cool completely, you can store toasted pine nuts in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week and a bit longer in the fridge.
Eric Mohrman is a food and drink, lifestyle, and travel writer. He spent 10 years working front- and back-of-house in a few casual and upscale restaurants, adding professional experience to his love of eating and cooking. He lives with his family in Orlando, Florida. His stories on food and beverage topics have appeared in numerous print and web publications, including Visit Florida, Orlando Style Magazine, CrushBrew Magazine, Agent Magazine, Dollar Stretcher Magazine, The 863 Magazine and others.