Winter is dragging on by now. Everyone at the post office today was grumbling about how sick they are of storms, snow, and ice. So what is there to forage in the dead of winter?
It's a symbol of longevity, and sure enough, pine is around all winter, giving us a boost of green and Vitamin C. It's quite easy to identify pine, which is evergreen and has long needles grouped in bundles of one to five. The eastern white pine, Pinus strobus, is indigenous, and a common landscape tree bearing long needles in bundles of five.
Pine nuts, which are the seeds of the pine tree, can be easily found in the grocery store, and used in recipes like Kenji's roasted cauliflower with pine nut, raisin, and caper vinaigrette. If you live in the Southwest where they have pinon pine trees, the seeds are large enough to forage and use as pine nuts.
For the rest of us, it's easier to find and use the pine needles. I confess that I first found it hard to imagine pine needles being particularly appetizing. I suppose in my mind I had an image of a serving platter piled high with needles. But I learned that the Japanese have long placed a bed of pine branches on top the coals of a grill under fish or matsutake mushrooms to impart a piney, citrusy aroma that brightens and adds flavor to a dish. Pine goes especially well with mushrooms.
It's also incredibly easy to make a pine needle oil to bring out the best of the pine flavor, which can be brushed on top of grilled or roasted fish or chicken. Tempura-fry pine needles and they will become crumbly like toasted sesame sticks. New York restaurant Daniel serves these on top of turbot with a pine needle and sake jus with porcini mushrooms.
Here's a cocktail recipe using an evergreen honey syrup (Forager's note: the photo in that recipe is not pine, and most Christmas trees are fir or spruce, not pine).
Finally, our latest jag in the Wong household is this fabulous Pine and Rosemary Ice Cream, based on a recipe from Gramercy Tavern pastry chef Miroslav Uskokovic. It has a piney, slightly menthol-like flavor that's like a Christmas winter all over again.
About the Author: Tama Matsuoka Wong is corporate lawyer turned professional forager who supplies wild plants to chefs in the New York City area and leads events across the country about the deliciousness of wild ingredients. She is the author of the Beard Award-nominated book 'Foraged Flavor: Finding Fabulous Ingredients in Your Backyard or Farmer's Market," with chef Eddy Leroux.