Between early spring and late fall, one thing you’ll see plenty of on the ground when strolling around Roman public parks – which are, more often than not, dotted with tall Mediterranean Stone pines – are pinoli, or pine nuts.
Encased in a single sticky and dusty scales of the pine cone, sit nearly 50 to 60 pinoli. Some scatter to the ground when the pinecones plummet to the ground, others have to be forced out of their home with great effort. The resin that saps out of the pinecones, and the unique burgundy powder that covers the scales as a natural moisture absorber, can stain clothes and fingers indelibly for days. A good tip is to rub any stains off with a dab of olive oil before scrubbing with soap and warm water.
Another good idea is to shake off the pine cone before prying them open for their hidden treasures. Disgusting black slithery Monsters Inc–type insects like to live among the tasty nuts. A good shake will dislodge any loitering bugs right out.
Save the pinecones in a large Ziploc bag and bring them back home with you. They’ll be excellent burned in the fireplace, with their perfumed burnt wood and resin bringing back fond Roman memories when snuggled before the crackling fire back home.
The nuts on the other hand can be consumed on the premises. The fun of gathering the pinoli snack is not so much in the real eating part (they are very tasty), as in the breaking of their hard wooden shell. Equip yourself with a large and heavy enough stone and snack like the Romans do. Here’s a recipe should you harvest more than you can gobble in one go (bearing in mind that un-shelled pine nuts have a long shelf life if kept dry and refrigerated).
Croccante di Pinoli ~ Recipe for Nonna’s Pine Nut Brittle
Break the pinoli shells open with a stone or a piece of rock the size of your fist, peel off the thin husks too.
Put the pinoli in a pot with 3 1/2 cups of sugar, a tablespoon of butter and call a grown up in the kitchen, tell him/her it’ll only take a few minutes.
Have the grown up light the stove, setting it on medium. Ask him/her to stick around while you stir gently with a wooden spoon until the mixture turns light golden brown in color.
Spread the gluey mixture on a greased cookie sheet about 1/2 inch thick and let it cool before digging your teeth in.
Just remember to brush and floss, after.