nuts about.

salt roasted almonds

Nuts, of course, crazy about them really.

Its funny but over the years I’ve found that I’ve been more and more drawn to using nuts in my cooking. Whether its serving a bowl of pistachios for everyone to shell themselves while we linger over a pre dinner drink, tossing a few roasted almonds through a salad for a flavour hit and textural contrast, sprinkling sliced almonds as a decoration on roast rainbow trout, tossing a few hazelnut chunks through a rich apple crumble topping, or even using them as a replacement for flour in a supermoist banana cake. Nuts seem to turn up everywhere.

This wasn’t always the case. I remember when I was first getting into cooking as a uni student, if a recipe called for say a handful of roasted macadamias in a couscous salad, I’d usually leave them out. Not because I didn’t think they’d taste good but because nuts just seemed so expensive.

As time has gone on I have become less price sensitive when it comes to food but I think there’s more to the increase in my use of nuts than that.  I think it’s more around discovering just how delicious they are, and how versatile. And that it usually doesn’t take many nuts to make a big difference to a dish both flavour and texture wise. And that if you get a bit organized and buy your nuts in bulk or when they’re on special that they really aren’t going to break the bank.

The other discovery in the world of nuts has been about roasting. Sure I’d always read, just like spices, that roasting brings out the flavour of nuts, but for a long time it just seemed like a bit of a hassle, an extra step that could be easily cut out to streamline things. And like most things in my kitchen, with a bit of trial and error, there’s been the discovery of just what a difference roasting makes so that these days I (almost) always take the extra time.

So this week I thought I’d share one of my most recent nut recipe loves, something that’s been on high rotation around here ever since I first made if for my Dad’s 70th birthday dinner back in December. It’s a sauce of almonds, hazelnuts and roasted red capsicums, a little number based loosely on the Romesco sauce in Sam and Sam Clarke’s top little book, Moro (more on this next week).

While the nuts are still there in my version, and it does taste amazing, I felt that the absence of the chilli and piquillo peppers in my version meant that it needed a name change and so I give you my not-so-imaginatively named almond, hazelnut & red capsicum (pepper) sauce. Give it a go, who knows, you may end up nuts about nuts too… all good things

almond, hazelnut & red capsicum (pepper) sauce
makes approx 2 cups
Inspired by Sam & Sam Clarke in their first book, Moro.

This has to be one of the most versatile sauces around. It adds an instant touch of nutty Spanish exoticism to most meats and your meatier fish. I’ve served it with a slow roasted leg of lamb, roast rack of pork and tuna steaks all with much success.

It was a little too powerful recently for some snapper baked in foil but went swimmingly well with the accompanying roast spuds. It’s also great spread on toast with a little avocado or with pita bread as a dip.

Will keep in the fridge for at least a week but is best when freshly made or the day after.

2 red capsicum (bell peppers)
2T reserved juice from charring the capsicum
big pinch saffron threads
100g(3 ½ oz) hazelnuts, roasted and peeled
200g (3 ½ oz) raw almonds, roasted
1-2cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
175g (6oz) cherry tomatoes
1 – 2T sherry vinegar
2t smoky paprika
1/3C extra virgin olive oil

Preheat your BBQ or grill to its highest heat and char capsicum on all sides until blackened. Place in a bowl and cover with foil and allow to cool. Meanwhile place saffron threads in a small cup and cover with 2T very hot water and allow to stand for 5 minutes.

When capsicum is cool enough to handle, peel away the blackened skin and remove stalk and seeds but keep aside the juice at the bottom of the bowl. Place capsicum and reserved juice in a food processor with saffron and saffron water, nuts and garlic and whizz until the nuts are like fine bread crumbs. Add remaining ingredients again and whizz until combined then add water a little at a time until your sauce is the consistency you like.

Taste and season well with salt and pepper.

salt roasted almonds

Salt and nuts go together amazingly well. These are the perfect salty snack, sure there’s more fat than you’d find in your average potato chip but you can console yourself that at least nuts have ‘good fats’ not to mention all the minerals like magnesium. Of course roasted nuts are lovely without salt as well so by all means give the sea salt a miss if you’re concerned about your sodium intake.

They are great to have on hand as a pre dinner nibble, and will keep in an airtight container for a while but are best when fresh. They also make a lovel addition to salads or are great chopped up and sprinkled on icecream.

I’ve used a combo of blanched and raw (skins on) almonds because that’s what I happened to have on hand and I liked the visual contrast but feel free to play around with your own mixture of nuts.

100g blanched almonds
100g raw almonds
2t extra virgin olive oil
2t sea salt flakes

Preheat oven to 160C (320F). In a small roasting tray toss nuts with the oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and bake, stirring occasionally for 10 – 20mins or until nuts are toasted and crispy.

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