Nuts

Nuts

By
Skye Gyngell
Contains
7 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781844006212
Photographer
Jason Lowe

Last autumn, on a warm, sunny day, I had the most unforgettable simple lunch on a lavender farm just outside Melbourne. The crop was being harvested and the heady scent of lavender was everywhere. A table was laid under a huge, old walnut tree and all around underfoot were young pale coloured walnuts. Their shells broke effortlessly. Crisp to the bite and very sweet, these beautiful nuts were a memorable taste and a joyful reminder of the turning of the season.

Nuts provide both textural depth and flavour to dishes in a way that nothing else is really quite able to. I love this quality and use all sorts of nuts in my cooking, especially during autumn and winter. Young, sweet hazelnuts and cobnuts are among my favourites… and creamy fresh walnuts of course. As with all nuts, freshness is of the utmost importance, so buy them in the shell if you possibly can – and treat them with respect, as they are delicate and easily spoilt.

Sadly, nuts are often not at their peak when they arrive in the shops for us to buy. Although regarded as a storecupboard ingredient, they are fragile and perishable, soon losing their freshness and turning rancid. So, wherever possible, nuts should be bought in their shell, in small quantities, and kept in a sealed container in a cool dark place. They really need to be eaten within a couple of weeks of purchase, at the most.

Walnuts are probably the most delicate of all nuts. Their flavour declines rapidly once they are removed from their shell, turning bitter and sharp. Sweet, creamy ‘wet walnuts’ as they are known when young and fresh, are altogether different and probably the best crop of the year.

Different nut varieties work better with different ingredients. You may well have your own ideas and preferences, but here is my rough guide to pairing nuts with other foods:

Almonds work well with chocolate, honey, peaches, nectarines and apricots. They are also lovely with delicate pink-fleshed fish like trout and salmon, but also with rabbit and succulent little birds such as pigeon or quail. In Spain, ground or finely chopped almonds are often used to thicken dishes, providing texture as well as a creamy, sweet richness.

Hazelnuts are beautiful with many cheeses, especially hard cow’s milk cheeses, but also in a salad with warm game and pickled fruit. Pounded into a thick paste and laced with orange zest, they will enhance grilled pork, beef and lamb. And, of course, hazelnuts are perfect with chocolate and honey.

Chestnuts are lovely with meringues, icing sugar and cream. In savoury dishes, they work well with Parma ham, sage, game birds, porcini, potatoes, Brussels sprouts and winter greens.

Pine nuts go with basil, Parmesan, pecorino and olive oil to make pesto, obviously, but also with pasta, spinach, raisins, quail and most salad leaves.

Cashews, candlenuts and peanuts have a natural affinity with chilli, tamarind, mint, coriander, cucumber, lime, coconut milk, white fish, chicken and white rice.

Pecans go well with maple syrup, cream, bananas and caramel, as well as blue cheeses, dates, beetroot and avocados.

Walnuts are lovely with crisp sweet apples and pears, blue cheeses, game, watercress and other bitter greens. And when creamy and fresh, they are sublime pounded into a paste with garlic, lemon zest and parsley, or breadcrumbs, roasted tomatoes and dried chillies to serve with meat or white fish.

Whenever you are serving nuts or using them in cooking, first warm or toast them gently in the oven to tickle out their flavour, if not too colour them. The heat of the oven heightens their taste and fragrance and gives them a better bite. Lastly, when grinding nuts, do use a pestle and mortar to pound them. To my mind, a blender or food processor is too aggressive for nuts and spoils their flavour.

Nut oils feature strongly in my cooking during the autumn. I love to drizzle walnut or hazelnut oil over grilled lamb or beef, and these oils are charming with leaves such as frisée, mâche and watercress.

Recipes in this Chapter

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