Exquisite and delectable, a little bowl of pine nuts is precious. These are pantry diamonds: coveted, expensive, and edible.
Pine nuts were always pricey, but not pricey enough to make me alter how I use them…until now. Recently for a dinner party, I planned to serve bulgur pilaf: a side dish that needs a generous cup of pine nuts to make it magical enough to transport me back to my grandmother’s kitchen. My local grocery sold them in 2 oz. packets for $3.89. Yikes! To keep things reasonable, I decided to reduce the $15 investment and serve, instead, an elegant mushroom tart appetizer with a flavorful but modest sprinkling of pine nuts.
The incident prompted me to investigate (Google) what made pine nuts so expensive.
Diminished supply coupled with increased demand make pine nuts costly. Apparently, the environment in which edible pine nut-producing trees grow is diminishing due to the usual suspects: deforestation and climate change. At the same time, it appears that the world has developed a taste for them. Pine nuts aren’t new; they’ve been harvested for more than 6000 years. It’s more likely that people are aware of the health benefits of eating nuts and, as a result, they’re consuming more of them.
Also contributing to the cost is the way they’re harvested; pine nuts are harvested by hand. Add them to your list of treasured but laboriously acquired foods like saffron and honey. The various methods for collecting and extracting pine nuts range from vigorous tree shaking to enthusiastic pine cone bashing. The pine nut market in the U.S. is worth about $100 million. Harvesting them is a labor of love and avarice.
The mushroom tart was a compromise, but definitely not a cheap thrill.
Mushroom Tart Appetizer
15 sheets phyllo dough (thawed according to pkg.)
½ stick melted butter
1 ½ lbs. white button mushrooms (or assorted mushrooms)
2 tbsp. melted butter/1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup baby mozzarella
2-3 ounces pine nuts
sea salt and pepper to taste
Roughly chop the mushrooms and saute them in the butter/olive oil mixture until they are no longer moist. Add the onions and continue cooking until the onions are soft. Set aside.
Generously grease a cookie sheet and place one sheet of the phyllo dough on it. Lightly brush melted butter over the sheet. Be careful not to saturate the dough with butter. Add another sheet on top of the first and again brush with melted butter. Layer the remainder of the sheets, making sure to brush each layer with butter before adding the next. Fold the edges of the tart inwards to form an edge. If needed, brush the edge with melted butter to make it stick.
Evenly spread the mushroom mixture on top of the tart. Sprinkle with mozzarella and pine nuts. Add salt and pepper.
Bake in oven at 350 for 7-10 minutes or until the phyllo dough turns a light gold. Can be served warm or at room temperature.