You may be surprised to know that there is more to the pine nut than just pesto. Pine nuts are the edible little seeds from pine trees that add texture and flavor to just about any Mediterranean dish. Use them in place of Italian cheese for a smooth buttery taste and an overall healthier recipe, or crush them up to thicken a sauce in place of flour.
Pine nuts turn sour, so buy them fresh, use them quick and store them in the fridge. I buy mine at Monterey Market, where they are far cheaper than anywhere else in the East Bay – about $11.50 per pound compared to $14 at Berkeley Bowl. You may notice that the Chinese variety are more affordable than others, but really, it is not worth it. Do a simple google search for "bitter taste and pine nuts" and I think you'll agree.
Capers, olives, chili peppers, basil and other sharp notes balance the understated character of pine nuts, and highlight why they are worth three times as much as other nuts. Toasting them brings the nuttiness forward while softening the sweetness, and adds more of a crunch to the otherwise soft consistency. To toast, simply heat up a cast iron pan and shake around on low heat for about 7-10 minutes until golden.
For this recipe I picked up a head of cauliflower at the Temescal market, chopped it small, and sauteed it with olive oil, freshly crushed chili peppers, garlic, salt-packed capers and fresh parsely. I added mashed and whole pine nuts to subdue the bite, and tossed it all with whole wheat spaghetti.
If you are a spice fiend like me, crush the chili peppers yourself. Much better than the bland powdered stuff you find topped with a red cap.