This is part one of a three part post today/tomorrow on pignoli nuts. What is a pignoli nut you ask? Well keep reading kids…and check back later today for part 2.

What do you do with a big, Costco size bag of pignoli left over from Christmas?

Well first, you make Biscotti di Pinoli. But let’s back up a bit.

Pignoli, or pine nuts, are the creamy, white seeds found in between the scales of a pine cone. They are especially popular in Italian dishes and can be used anywhere from your “primi” to your “dolce.” Your familiar with pesto sauce right? Well, one of the main ingredients happens to be ground pine nuts.

And for a little fun food history… pine nuts date back to Biblical times and have even been found in the ruins of Pompeii. Word on the street is they were often a main ingredient in ancient love potions and according to Galen, a second-century Greek, if taken with with almonds and honey three nights in a row…well you get the picture.

One of my favorite pignoli recipes is the pignoli cookie. Traditionally, it is a holiday cookie, however, I like to make them whenever the craving hits.

Preparing pignoli cookies is both fun (i.e. finger lickin’ good) and easy. The dough consists of only three ingredients aside from the nuts: almond paste, egg whites and confectioner’s sugar. All three are beaten together until they form a sticky paste. Be warned: this is definitely the type of cookie dough you could eat raw all day long! I may or may not have been smacked by a spoon for sampling the goods last time these were made at my house. So, unless you want to end up with only half a batch (and a few bruises), resist the urge.

Moving on. Once your dough is prepared, you take 1/2 tablespoon globs of batter and drop them into a bowl of pignoli nuts. Roll them around until the batter is coated and pop them on a tray.

The cookies themselves are a rich contrast of chewy almond dough and toasty pignoli crunch. My mom likes to tell me about buying these when she was just a wee little thing. Both she and my dad are born and raised Brooklyn, New Yorkers and my mom, being Italian, grew up surrounded by amazing food. According to her, pignoli cookies were “THE COOKIE” at Christmas time and (here comes her mantra) “they weren’t cheap you know.”

If you find yourself wandering around New York sometime soon, makes sure you find an Italian bakery and try a real, authentic pignoli cookie. Or, you could just make your own via the recipe below. It comes to you courtesy of my mom’s sister, my Aunt Laura.

Remind me to tell you sometime about eating Sunday dinner at my Aunt Laura and Uncle Vinny’s (yes, I do indeed have an Uncle Vinny. I also have a Cousin Vinny, two in fact). In short, eating at their house is like walking onto the set of “The Sopranos.” We’ll leave it at that for now. Now go and eat your cookies.

~Brittni

Biscotti di Pinoli

Adapted from Aunt Laura’s recipe

You will need:
One 8-ounce can almond paste
2 large egg whites, beaten, plus 1 more if necessary
1 cup confectioner’s sugar, plus more for decorating
2 cups pignoli nuts

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 350. Generously butter a large baking sheet.

Crumble the almond paste into the large bowl of an electric mixer. Beat in the 2 egg whites and the confectioners’ sugar until smooth. The batter should be very soft and sticky. If it is not, beat the extra egg white and add another tablespoon of egg white.

Place the pignoli nuts in a small bowl. Drop a 1/2 tablespoon of the batter into the nuts and roll it into a ball. Coating the cookies completely with nuts helps prevent them from sticking to the baking sheet. Place the ball on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining batter and nuts, placing the cookies about 1 inch apart.

Bake for 12 – 18 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cool for 2 minutes on the pan, then transfer the cookies to racks to cool completely. Dust the cooled cookies with confectioners’ sugar. Store them in an airtight container or in the freezer up to one month.

Yield ~ 30-40 cookies

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