You might say we go nuts for nuts — at a cocktail party, in a bar or as an anytime snack. But nuts have a far greater reach, especially around the holidays, when they are traditionally used in all sorts of cakes and pies.
Nuts are a natural pairing with the flavors of chocolate, citrus and fruit. And they are one of the easiest ways to add flavor and crunch to your holiday favorites, from turkey stuffing to salads, soups and pastas.
Humans have been eating nuts since prehistoric times; it’s a relatively recent discovery that they are nutritional powerhouses, loaded with vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber. Plus they have a rich, satisfying flavor.
Spiced, caramelized nuts are quick and easy to make; packed in a mason jar, they make a great holiday gift. I also love sprinkling them in salads.
Make a batch by melting 2 tablespoons unsalted butter in a small saucepan over moderate heat, then add 1 tablespoon of sugar and a pinch of cayenne pepper and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add a cup of nuts (pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts or a combination) stirring until golden, about 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl to cool and try to refrain from eating them all yourself.
Look for cashew, almond and hazelnut butters in your supermarket, and try them in sweet and savory dishes as an alternative to dairy butter. Also, nut oils such as those made from almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios or pecans add a pleasantly nutty flavor to vinaigrettes and desserts. Almond flour is widely available for use in gluten-free baking.
Best of all, most nuts are interchangeable and can be substituted for one another without any changes in the recipe. For example, walnuts can take the place of pine nuts in pesto, with delicious results.
More tips for buying and cooking with nuts:
▪ Nuts in the shell keep longer than those out of the shell. Buy nuts from a store with a good turnover for a better chance at freshness. Avoid any with cracked shells.
▪ Shelled nuts kept in an airtight container in a dark place remain fresh for about three weeks. Store for several months in a sealed container in the freezer.
▪ Purchase whole shelled nuts and chop them yourself just before you use them for freshest flavor. The exception is sliced and slivered almonds.
▪ Nuts stored improperly can go rancid; smell before using and if they don’t smell nutty and sweet, toss them out.
▪ Toasting nuts brings out their flavor and aroma. Place nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast in a 350-degree oven for about 5 minutes to release their essential oils. Check the nuts after 3 minutes to make sure they don’t burn.
Tagliatelle with Walnuts and Lemon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup sage leaves, finely shredded
grated zest of 1 medium lemon
3 tablespoons heavy cream
salt and black pepper
10 1/2 ounces tagliatelle, tagliolini or fettuccini
2/3 cup walnuts, roughly broken up, toasted
1 3/4 cups Parmigiano-Reggiano, shaved
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Place a sauté pan over high heat and add the butter. Cook for 1 minute, add the sage, and fry for about 2 minutes, until the butter starts to brown. Add the lemon zest, cream, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and plenty of black pepper; stir and cook for just a few seconds to thicken the sauce a little. Remove from the heat at once so the cream doesn’t separate. Set aside until ready to use.
Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil and add the pasta. Cook for 8 minutes, or according to the package instructions, until al dente. Drain, reserving a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid, and place in a large bowl. Warm the sauce, adding some cooking liquid if it has become very thick, then add it to the pasta along with the walnuts, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and parsley. Toss the mix, stir in the lemon juice, and serve at once. Serves 2.
Note: Italian winery Ca’ di Rajo’s Terredirai Pinot Grigio 2013 ($25) shines as a partner to this pasta dish because of its excellent acid balance and citrus and stone-fruit notes.
Per serving: 1,325 calories (46 percent from fat), 68 g fat (28 g saturated, 15 g monounsaturated), 122 mg cholesterol, 54 g protein, 126 g carbohydrate, 8 g fiber, 1,091 mg sodium.
Source: Adapted from “Plenty More” by Yotam Ottolenghi ($35, Ten Speed Press).