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State Plate Recipe: New Mexico’s Piñon Brittle

Nuts Over Pine Nuts

The main ingredient in classic pesto sauce, the pine nut (or piñon or pignoli) can be used in a variety of recipes—from savory to sweet—from salads to cookies. The tiny nut’s flavor is often described as sweet, subtle with a buttery texture.

Some pine nut tips:

  • Be Cautious: Always inform guests that your recipe contains pine nuts, as those who are allergic to other nuts, may have a similar reaction to pine nuts.
  • Sniff: Use your nose when buying the nuts. Rancid nuts give off a foul odor, may have grown mold and will taste bitter. So if possible, sniff before you buy.
  • Preparation: Pine nuts can be eaten raw or toasted. Toasting brings out more flavor. However, because they’re very small and have a high oil content, you must watch them carefully while toasting. They can burn quickly. Toast stovetop in a skillet, stirring frequently, until golden. Or roast in the oven on a flat sheet at 350 degrees F for about 10 minutes. Shake the tray about halfway through to make sure they roast evenly and don’t burn.
  • Storage: Because they can go bad, easily, always store your pine nuts in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They should keep for one or two months. Or freeze them in a freezer bag for three to six months. When you go to use them, remember to take a sniff and check for mold to make sure they’re still good.
  • Pine Mouth: Some people may have this strange reaction to the nuts resulting in a metallic taste in the mouth that affects the flavor of other foods making them taste bitter or soapy. The affliction begins 12 to 48 hours after eating the nuts and can last anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks. According to the FDA this is not an allergy, but an adverse reaction, and the majority of the complaints were from people who ate the nuts raw. Toasting the nuts before including in recipes may reduce the chances of this happening. In the cases reported, the nuts had not gone bad and did not taste off.
  • High Ticket Item: Because they’re so difficult to harvest and prepare for market, pine nuts cost a pretty penny!

Easy Piñon Brittle

Ingredients

  • 1 cup piñon nuts, shelled & roasted (see tip for roasting in the Nuts Over Pine Nuts section)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • Butter to coat the cookie sheet

Equipment

  • Sauce pan
  • Large cookie sheet
  • Spatula

Directions

  1. Melt sugar over low heat. Stir constantly until it becomes a thin syrup.
  2. Mix in shelled, roasted nuts.
  3. Pour onto the buttered cookie sheet in a thin layer, using a spatula to even out the mixture.
  4. Allow to cool.
  5. When the candy is cold and has hardened, break into uneven pieces.

Options:

Some people like to add 1 cup of light corn syrup, 1/4 cup of water and 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter to the sugar in step 1 of the directions. Experiment and see how you like it. The important thing is to keep stirring at that point!