When a nut is not a nut …
There is a reason we see street vendors roasting chestnuts over braziers in the cold European autumn and winter; steaming bowls of chestnut soup as temperatures drop in Italy; rich pecan pies during Thanksgiving in the states; and the traditional white Christmas turkey stuffed with chestnuts.
Eating with the seasons is as much about nature providing inspiration for what you want to eat at that time of year as it is about great taste, cheaper prices and decreased food miles.
As the leaves turn, nuts such as walnuts, chestnuts and hazelnuts, are at their peak. Worlds apart from their older, often stale, and sometimes even rancid counterparts, fresh nuts cracked from their shells are one of the forgotten seasonal treats of autumn and winter. Their natural affinity with other seasonal delicacies such as alongside apples or pears in a waldorf salad, in rich cold-weather desserts such as the French chocolate and hazelnut tortes, or chinks of chestnut camouflaged in an oozing risotto makes them a seasonal treat not to be missed.
Nuts are unusual due to the ease with which they transcend the boundary between savoury and sweet. Equally at home in a chocolate brownie or as a key ingredient in praline or nougat as they are in a savoury dish (almond slivers are fabulous served with brown butter over trout, while Middle Eastern and Indian dishes often use nuts to thicken curries and stews and to add texture).
They also blur the line between indulgence and health. They generally have a high fat content, yet are full of the good oils that our bodies need to thrive.
Generally buy nuts from a place that has a high turnover, such as health shop. Buy in small portions as they will go off. Store in a cool, dark place in an airtight container. Due to their high fat content they can benefit from being stored in the fridge.
Cooking with nuts:
Rub 100g flour, 100g brown sugar, 100g chopped nuts and 200g of butter between your fingers to form a breadcrumb consistency. Sprinkle over the top of stewed apples, pears or rhubarb and roast to make a beautiful autumnal crumble.
Lightly roast pine nuts and process with a bunch of picked basil leaves and a clove of garlic. Add ½ a cup of grated parmesan and enough good quality extra virgin olive oil for a delicious pesto (store with a layer of olive oil on top to prevent browning).
Replace flour with a nut flour such as almond meal or chestnut flour in Madeleines or cupcakes to create a dense yet moist texture.
Macadamia nuts –
One of Australia’s most celebrated native foods, a macadamia nut is a hard nut to crack. It is for that reason, and its rich, buttery flavour, that macadamia nuts demand prices twice that of cashews. In spite of macadamias being an Aussie native it is Hawaii that produces 95% of the world’s production. In a market largely driven by the U.S. (where they are predominantly used in cookies and ice creams).
Macadamia nuts have a high fat content (from 65% - 80% oil) however the oil is largely mono-unsaturated, which is believed to help reduce bad cholesterol. Macadamia nuts are also great for low-carb diets with only 4 grams net carbohydrates per half a cup of serving. They are also a good source of magnesium and potassium, and contain iron, niacin, thiamine and zinc.
Due to their high fat content macadamia nuts must be carefully stored to avoid them going rancid. Where possible opt for vacuum packed nuts where they can be stored for up to 6 months or freeze them for up to a year. Once opened use within 2 months
Cooking with macadamias:
Make a nut butter by processing a handful of macadamia nuts in a processor until a paste is formed. You can add honey or a little flavourless oil to loosen the consistency if desired.
Roast macadamia nuts in a frying pan with a little flavourless oil and a handful of rosemary leaves. Serve hot as an appetiser.
Add half a cup of chopped macadamia nuts to your favourite chocolate brownie or banana bread recipe.
Chop macadamia nuts and press onto a thick white fillet of fish … dredge the fillet in flour, then egg and then in the crushed macadmia nuts. Fry gently in a frying pan or roast at 180C
Macadamias love: chocolate, coconut, fish, rosemary, chicken, salt, chilli, coconut