Felicia Orth: Piñon And Portabellas

Piñon Pine on Barranca. Courtesy photo
 
By FELICIA ORTH
Los Alamos
 
The Piñon Pine, or nut pine (Pinus edulis) was designated in 1948 as the state tree of New Mexico.
 
It grows slowly, not very tall, and is often found with juniper trees. We have one adjacent to our driveway, and have known it primarily for the copious amounts of fragrant sap it produces.
 
This year, presumably as a result of the rains in May and June, we found many pine nuts all over the ground nearby, and, like many local populations over the centuries, collected them in happy anticipation of adding the roasted nutmeats to salads, stews, cookies and pesto.
 
Unfortunately, they were vanos, or empty, and we learned that we might have guessed they would be empty shells when cracked open: the shell color is too light, and apart from judging color, we have only the one Piñon Pine in the yard. If there is to be nutmeat in the shells, the tree must be pollinated by another.
 
I was reminded of the sweet tagline from a wedding we attended last weekend: “Thad and Susan, Better together.” True for humans and for Piñon Pines.
 
I had been promising the family mushrooms and pine nuts, however, and so ended up purchasing them at the Farmer’s Market to prepare this dish. My friend Linda Romero has said she will take me piñon hunting next year, in places where there are many trees, and we will not be bothering with vanos.
 
The simplicity of this recipe belies its rich flavors and versatility.
 
Melt a knob of butter in a sauté pan over medium-high heat and add one pound of sliced portabella mushrooms. Season generously with salt and ground pepper. I sometimes add a bit of minced garlic. When the mushrooms become fragrant, about 5 minutes, add ½ cup piñon nuts and cook a few minutes more.
 
Just before removing the pan from the heat, squeeze one-quarter of a fresh lemon into the pan and give it a stir. This makes a wonderful vegetarian side dish; the mixture can also be placed on top of toasted French bread as an appetizer. Last week, I topped a dish of pesto pasta with it.
 
Thinly sliced beef or chicken can also be prepared this way, and the mixture makes an excellent filling in a corn tortilla with a little goat cheese.
 
Editor’s note: Felicia Orth is a local home cook and can be reached at orthf@yahoo.com.
 
The pine nuts that we collected. Courtesy photo
 
Piñon and Portabellas. Courtesy photo
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