So often on Chopped we see chef contestants open their mystery baskets to find such odd, uncommon and downright scary ingredients — precooked pig snout, pickled beef tongue or grasshoppers, anyone? — that it can seem nearly impossible for home cooks to put them to work in everyday meals. On other episodes, however, the ingredients are far less intimidating yet not quite familiar. That’s where we come in. Each week during the brand-new season of Chopped Champions, FN Dish will break down the whats, hows and whens of an approachable, family-friendly ingredient and share deliciously simple recipes for using it, so that you can show off your best culinary chops at home. Following last Tuesday’s Grand Finale competition, the focus is now on pine nuts, which made an appearance in the appetizer basket alongside pig ears, ramps and apple strudel.
As you may have guessed, pine nuts do in fact come from pine trees, as they’re the tiny (think pinky-nail size) seeds that grow inside pinecones. Untoasted pine nuts are a light yellow-cream color and boast a buttery, slightly chewy texture. After warming in a pan, however, pine nuts become a golden hue and offer a crunchy bite to greens, grains, pasta and more. Given their small size, pine nuts are often left whole when mixed in salads or served atop vegetables, but they can also be ground into sauces or vinaigrettes. Read on below to find traditional and creative ways to cook with this must-try ingredient, then browse these insider photos from the Champions finale to relive each course of the battle.
Food Network Magazine‘s simple Roasted Asparagus (pictured above) turns out deliciously tender every time, but thanks to a topping of pine nuts, parsley and lemon juice, this top-rated recipe features a crunchy texture and fresh, vibrant taste as well. Serve this in-season vegetable with light fish, hearty meat and more to complete your meal in only 20 quick minutes.
As Chef Vinson demonstrated by making a pesto of ramp greens and pine nuts during the Champions competition, pine nuts are a classic pesto ingredient. While pesto is traditionally made with basil, the summertime herb can be difficult to find right now, and what sorry plants have landed on grocery store shelves this February are likely expensive and not very impressive-looking. Thanks to Giada’s Grilled Chicken With Spinach and Pine Nut Pesto (pictured right), however, it’s easy to enjoy pesto any time of year, as it’s made with nutrient-rich spinach instead. She adds a squeeze of lemon juice and drizzle of olive oil to the bright-green puree along with the pine nuts, and serves the no-cook sauce atop juicy grilled chicken.
Not just for entrees and side dishes, pine nuts take on a starring role in Giada’s simple dessert as well — Pine Nut Cookies, a top-rated recipe made with just a handful of ingredients. These light, crispy bites boast a subtle sweetness and are laced with fragrant ground fennel seeds. Before baking the cookies, Giada presses a few pine nuts into each for a crunchy topping, and after a few minutes in the oven, the cookies are golden-brown and the nuts toasted.
Tune in to an all-new episode of Chopped tonight at 8pm/7c.