Sunday, August 30, 2015

Dining-In: A Culinary Tour of America-Winnemucca, Nevada

The Location: Winnemucca, Nevada
2013 population: 8,002. 69.4% white, 25.5% Hispanic. Per capita income: $29,629

The city was named for the 19th century Paiute chief who lived in the region with his tribe. The name loosely translates to "one moccasin". The chief's daughter, Sarah Winnemucca, learned English and acted as a go-between for the US Army and her people. She was an advocate for fair treatment and education rights of her people. During the Bannock War of 1878, she was a messenger and scout for the United States.

The Bannock War was fought between the United States army and the Paiute and Bannock tribes. The war ended badly for the Native Americans, and those not killed in battle were forced to move to the Yakama Indian Reservation in what is now Washington state. Approximately 543 people were forced to live there from 1878 to 1886 before being granted permission to return to Nevada.

Sarah Winnemucca wrote an autobiography in 1883. It was the first autobiography written by a Native American woman. Many people see her as a traitor to her people, but I see her as somebody trying desperately to smooth things over for her people. Even if it meant playing to both sides, she always had her own people's best interests in mind, even if it didn't always work out that way.

In 1868, the Central Pacific Railroad came to Winnemucca. And on September 19, 1900 Butch Cassidy's gang robbed a bank in the city. They would take $32,640 from the First National Bank of Winnemucca. Over the years, Basque and Chinese immigrants would also call Winnemucca home.

Today, Winnemucca partakes in Nevada's gambling culture, as well as having its fair share of brothels.

The Food: Pine Nuts

During my researching for foods native to Nevada, I ran across pine nuts, and thought that was interesting. I'd only ever really used pine nuts in pesto sauce before, and that's Italian. How would such vastly different cultures in very different places, both use the ingredient in their own way? And have you ever wondered why pine nuts cost so much when you buy them? I have, and it turns out that pine nuts are an incredibly labor-intensive ingredient.

This video is very interesting and education. It shows the importance of the pine nut to the Paiute people, which is why I decided to focus on this food for this week's blog. Pine nuts, it turns out, are not native to just the United States. It's why you see it show up in dishes from other cultures, like pesto sauce from Italy. Each culture has its own way of harvesting the pine nuts, and today there is most likely a modernized version of harvesting, but it still takes several steps to get a pine nut from a pine cone on a tree, to your dinner plate. It makes sense to me now why they would cost that much.

This video shows another way of harvesting and preparing pine nuts. This is how the Navajo people of Arizona do it. You can see that they have different traditions and different ways of thinking about the pine nut. It's a good example of how ideas differ between tribes and that Native Americans cannot be thought of as all the same or having an interchangeable culture.

The Dishes: Spinach and Pine Nut Quesadilla and Pine Nut Tart

Try as I might, I was unable to find recipes specific to the Paiute or other Native American tribes to try out for this blog. I did, however, find a couple of my own recipe cards that heavily feature pine nuts, and used them instead. I looked around for the best priced pine nuts I could find and got mine from Trader Joe's. An 8 oz. bag cost $7.99. It was enough for both of these recipes with about 1/3 cup leftover to use another time. I highly recommend going to Trader Joe's for your pine nut needs.

Spinach and Pine Nut Quesadilla:
4 (6") flour tortillas
1 cup cheddar cheese(I used a reduced-fat cheddar-jack mix and it was just fine)
1 cup spinach, cleaned
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
Salt and Pepper, to taste(I actually didn't notice this and didn't do it, but thought the flavors were just fine anyway)

Blanch spinach. In boiling water, add spinach; cook till a bright green color, about one minute. Squeeze water out from spinach and set aside. Salt optional. (I did salt the water and I think it worked well.)
Place 2 tortillas in a large frying pan over medium heat. Sprinkle half of the cheese over the 2 tortillas. Add all the spinach(this is all bunched up after squeezing the water out of it. I took the time to unfold all the spinach but you could also chop it up and sprinkle it evenly over the cheese.) and pine nuts. Take the last 2 tortillas and sprinkle the remaining cheese. When cheese has melted, place over the first 2 tortillas. Cut quesadillas into 4 pieces.  Makes 2 servings

I didn't make this exactly like the recipe calls for. I did it for one quesadilla, to begin with, and prepared it this way: tortilla, half the cheese, all the spinach and pine nuts, then rest of cheese over top. Top with next tortilla and pan-fry until golden on one side. Place a large plate over the quesadilla and keeping your hand on it, lift up the pan and flip it over, allowing the quesadilla to fall onto the plate. Then gently slide the quesadilla back into the pan so the uncooked side can heat through. When it's toasted on both sides and the cheese is melted, slide it out of the pan and back onto the plate to serve. Use a pizza cutter to cut it into quarters. I served this with salsa and some tortilla chips. It was really good. The spinach is slightly bitter and the pine nuts have a unique flavor I can't actually describe in words. It blends well with the cheese and spinach. I highly recommend this one. It's super easy.

Pine Nut Tart:
1 1/2 cups flour
2 Tbsp. + 2/3 cup sugar(I used 1/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce)
3/4 tsp. salt, divided
1/4 cup shortening(Note, even the updated version of shortening still has trans fat in it. I opted to use lard instead of shortening. Even though lard is all saturated fat, I believe it's still more natural and less damaging than trans fat. But you can use whatever you're most comfortable with.)
10 Tbsp. butter, divided
3/4 cup slivered blanched almonds
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1 cup pine nuts, toasted

1.) In medium bowl, with fork, stir flour, 2 Tbsp. sugar, and 1/4 tsp. salt. With pastry blender, cut in shortening and 4 Tbsp. butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle about 4 Tbsp., 1 Tbsp. at a time, into flour mixture, mixing lightly with fork after each addition until dough is just moist enough to hold together. (I found I needed closer to 5 Tbsp.) Shape dough into a disk; wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes or until firm enough to roll.
2.) Preheat oven to 425 degrees. On lightly greased surface, with rolling pin, roll dough into 14" round. Press dough onto bottom and up sides of 11"x1" round tart pan with removable bottom. Fold overhang in and press against side of tart pan to form a rim 1/8" above edge of pan.(I found mine made way too much dough so I cut off the excess and baked that separately with butter, sugar and cinnamon as a separate treat, rather than just throw it away.) With fork, prick dough in 1" intervals to prevent puffing and shrinking during baking.

3.) Line tart shell with foil and fill with dried beans or uncooked rice. Bake shell 20 minutes; remove foil with weights and bake 10 minutes longer or until golden. If crust puffs up during baking, press it to pan with back of spoon. Turn oven down to 375 degrees.(Note, I didn't notice this step, because the recipe card is really small writing. I just did the initial 20 minute baking with the weights and then removed them from the shell and filled it with the filling. It turned out just fine, but you should probably do this step just in case it would make it even better.)
4.) In food processor, pulse almonds, cornstarch, baking powder, and 1/4 tsp. salt until almonds are very finely ground.
5.) In large bowl, with mixer on low speed, beat almond mixture, 2/3 cup sugar, and 6 Tbsp. butter until crumbly. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until well combined, about 3 minutes. Constantly scraping bowl with rubber spatula. Add eggs, 1 at a time, vanilla and almond extract; beat until smooth.
6.) Pour filling into warm tart shell. Arrange pine nuts evenly over filling. Bake tart 20 minutes or until golden and filling is firm. Cool tart in pan on wire rack. When cool, carefully remove side from pan.
Makes 12 servings.
I tried this when it was still warm and it was pretty good. Because of the eggs in the filling, I refrigerated it overnight and tasted it it cold the next morning. I think the flavors work better when it's chilled.
I think this would be good with ice cream or whipped cream if you're into that sort of thing. The texture was pretty much the same with the half applesauce, half sugar blend I went with, though I think the flavor wasn't almond-ey enough. The extract I had was older, so maybe it wasn't as strong as it could have been. The pine nuts add the distinct pine nut flavor and blends well with the almonds. The crust was on point. It was crispy and delicious. It looks like a lot of steps, and it does require a lot of equipment to make, but this was a fun baking project. If you like baking and have confidence, I recommend this one. It's a bit much for a beginner, but if you have a some baking under your belt, do try it out. I think you'll like it! Definitely not for somebody with a nut allergy, though...both are tree nuts, after all.

Whenever you make something with pine nuts in it, and grumble about how much money you shelled out for them, take a minute to remember the work that goes into preparing a pine nut from something inside a pine cone, on a tree, to your pot or pan. It takes many steps and many people to get it from there to here. Depending on where you're from, there is a long and illustrious history with pine nuts, and they should be respected. Do try them out in something other than pesto, too, you won't regret it!

City Stats

City Pic

City Map

City History

Sarah Winnemucca History

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