Wednesday, July 7, 2010
You're gonna love my nuts!
No, really. While I don't endorse this guy or his products, I think he's hilarious (and creepy). Plus, it's true. Nuts are delicious and I think they are under appreciated. I'll give you a minute to get your mind out of the gutter.
Done? Okay, good. I really think that nuts, specifically tree nuts, aren't utilized enough. True that they are in a lot of baked, sweet, and pastry items-breads, baklava, cookies, garnishes, candied, brittles, in spreads, etc. But in the savory side of cooking, not so much.
I just ate one of my favorite pasta dishes* for dinner and the superstar of the dish is pine nuts. It got me thinking of how little nuts are used in savory dishes. Now maybe many of you can come up with a million and one savory dishes that include nuts, but I really can't. I think of pesto, peanut butter sauces in some Asian cooking (Yeah, yeah. Peanuts are ground "nuts"), stuffing or dressing, crusts for meats, and garnishes for salads.
Now, part of this under-utilization is due to allergies. I get that. I can count about 20 people or more that I know that have some sort of nut allergy. Some allergies are very severe. It's tragic. I'm very fortunate to not have any known food allergies, so I can't relate. And honestly, more for me!
Nuts can add healthy oils that your body needs to your diet. Nut oils can add great flavor to a simple meat or vegetable dish. Tired of olive oil? Try using walnut oil. Just be mindful of your cooking temperature. Certain nut oils can burn fast and shouldn't be used for frying. Need some texture in your pasta or rice? Toast some pecans or almonds and toss them in for crunch. Take a few risks and play with your food. Pine nuts in a simple marinara sauce changes the flavor entirely. Roasted, chopped walnuts (and some golden raisins) in sauteed spinach is fantastic and adds a gourmet touch to what can be a boring green. And please, please, please use a different nut to make pesto. Traditional pesto is great, but have you tried using pistachios instead? You ought to. The next time you need a new idea, think about using some nuts in your savory recipe.
*My supper was linguini with prosciutto and pine nuts. Toast 3 Tbsp of pine nuts in a dry saute pan. Remove when just starting to turn golden and smell nutty; allow to cool. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1 Tbsp butter in a pan. Add a serving of linguini or whatever pasta you have on hand, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, and salt and pepper to taste. Warm through. Add two slices of prosciutto cut into ribbons. Toss the pine nuts back in and finish with a few leaves of basil, torn. Top with parmagiano if you'd like (I, personally, do like). It's a great way to use up leftover pasta.