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Going Nuts

Jonas Tana Walnuts CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)I don’t understand people who don’t like walnuts. To me they their woodsy, slightly bitter flavor is delicious, unlike any other nut in my nut-stocked pantry (the amount of raw almonds that Padraic manages to swipe on a single Trader Joe’s run astounds me 🙂 ) As much as I love almonds, walnuts seem special somehow — maybe because I’m more likely to cook something special with them, versus eat them raw, or maybe it’s just because they’re expensive.

As it happens, I recently put 1/2 cup of walnuts to use in Tyler Florence’s recipe for banana bread. I’d wager that most avid home cooks have a go-to recipe for banana bread, and recently this has become mine, after years of following my great-grandmother’s handwritten recipe. (Her’s includes a hearty helping of bisquick, which makes me smile.) Tyler Florence’s is a bit more subtle, dividing the 4 bananas into 2 batches — the first is whipped with sugar to form a “banana cream” as the foundation for the rest of the batter, while the remaining 2 bananas are mashed into a chunky purĂ©e to be folded in at the end. The result is an especially sweet, moist, and light cake enhanced, of course, by the addition of warm, toasted WALNUTS.

Speaking of walnuts, let’s pause for a moment to ponder these infinitely adaptable blondies — except that I think I’ve landed upon the best version, and it involves a rich combination of almond extract, toasted walnuts, and chocolate chips. Here’s the breakdown:

Blondies
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

8 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Pinch salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup walnuts
1 cup chocolate chips

Tools

Square baking pan
Large spatula
Mixing bowls
Measuring cups
Measuring spoons

  • Grease a square baking pan and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Stir together the melted butter and brown sugar.
  • Stir in the large egg, the almond extract, and the salt.
  • Stir in the all-purpose flour until just combined.
  • Chop, measure, and toast the walnuts, folding them into the batter along with the chocolate chips.*
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes. Gooey is good 🙂

*Adding a tablespoon of flour to the walnuts and chocolate chips helps evenly distribute them, preventing them from sinking to the bottom.

I’ll make this my last mention in this little walnut eulogy — and guess what, it’s not a baked good. Far better, it’s a one-bowl pasta dinner with a sauce predicated entirely on the combination of toasted walnuts, butter, olive oil,  heavy cream, and Parmesan cheese. The result is a subtle, buttery taste with a distinctive walnut flair. I wrote out the entire recipe below, only to realize that I’d already posted it on my blog. I guess I just love it that much. Enjoy 🙂

The Magic of Eggs and the Seduction of Cheese

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 12.58.56 PMThe title of this post is not mine, cheese-lover and egghead though I may be (actually, I’m a far cry from an egghead, just looking for an easy pun there). No, this enthusiastic quip hails from Judith Jones, food editor extraordinaire, titling a chapter in her book,The Pleasures of Cooking for One. As mentioned here, her recipes and general philosophy toward cooking with equal parts gusto and frugality also provide an excellent blueprint for couples, or two-party households. To kick off the last week before Christmas, I thought I’d take a cue from Judith and contribute my own take on the holly jolly with two everyday recipes that accomplish something special via a little grated Parmesan and beaten egg whites. As much as I love colored lights, bearded gnomes, and piles of pure driven snow, I believe that the magic of the holidays is inextricably linked with — what else? — “the magic of eggs and the seduction of cheese.”

Cheesy Pasta with Walnut Sauce

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 1.06.14 PMI first discovered this recipe a few years ago in Giada De Laurentiis’s Everyday Pasta, and I hadn’t made it for a while until I gave it a go last night. How does this fit into the “seduction of cheese”? Because cheese allows you to do things like make a dinner out of walnuts. I love walnuts but I suppose you could make it with anything — almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts — it was a bit of a revelation for me in the frugality department because aside from half-and-half, I usually have the ingredients lying around, or some sufficient substitution (milk would do for the half and half and you could swap out whatever dried herbs you have). I also love that it’s a true sauce and not a pesto, and in that sense it’s a new way of thinking about making pasta with nuts — it’s sort of like you’re making a pesto and then adding pasta water and cream to make it a warm sauce. The original recipe calls for rotelli (those short spirals) but I happened to buy some purdy tagliatelle at Trader Joe’s last weekend. (Original recipe also calls for heavy cream and parsley instead of rosemary, if you want to give that combo a try.) I feel like tagliatelle makes things elegant for a cosy Sat night at home with my husband, and I think the “woody” rosemary pairs well with walnuts.

Ingredients

  • 16 oz. bag of egg noodles, such as tagliatelle
  • 2 T. butter
  • 1 1/2 cup toasted walnuts
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 3/4 c. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup hard, nutty cheese (Parm or Asiago)
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half, warmed
  • Chopped rosemary
  • Reserved pasta water

Prep Pasta and Walnuts

Set pasta water to boil; meanwhile, toast walnuts for 2-3 minutes in a warm, dry skillet over medium-low heat.

Make the Sauce

In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine walnuts, butter, salt and pepper until a paste forms. Slowly pour in olive oil as you mix to combine. Pour into a small bowl and stir in the cheese and half-and-half.

Pull it Together

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and reserve the pasta water. Toss the pasta with a drizzle of olive oil and add the sauce, ladling on the pasta water as much as needed to fully coat the noodles and achieve desired thickness. Sprinkle with chopped rosemary or another herb of your choice.

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 1.11.59 PMThe story behind my lemon ricotta pancake experiment — in other words, the magic of egg whites — also involves an at-home date with my “hubby,” if you will. I made these (from Williams & Sonoma’s Essentials of Breakfast and Brunch) for brunch on his birthday and, as a testament to how good and easy these are, these little flapjacks wound up being his birthday cake. Sadly, they far outshined my attempt at a blueberry pie (with my typical humility, let me assure you that pie is usually my thing and I blame it on my husband’s request for something intended to be eaten in July — I probably botched the use of frozen berries, I used a different recipe for crust and I tried to transport it to an Irish pub and then realized it was supposed to cool for several hours first — the thing was a half-baked, dribbly mess. But who cares? My sister-in-law was kind enough to bring cupcakes :)) Back to flapjacks. I think it’s great when ricotta cheese, lemon zest, and whipped egg whites turns something worthy of Denny’s into something worthy of, I dunno, Dennaes. It gives you a little lift, literally and figuratively speaking.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons unsalted butter, melted
  • Berries tossed with sugar, for serving

Prep the Batter

Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk together buttermilk, egg yolks, sugar, ricotta, and lemon zest. Add the buttermilk mixture to the dry mixture and stir until combined. It can be a little lumpy.

Whip and Fold

Beat egg whites until soft peaks form (easiest, in m opinion, with a standing mixer on medium speed, whisk attachment, but can be done by hand). Carefully fold beaten egg whites into the ricotta mixture.

Fry in a Pan

Heat a large frying pan over medium heat until a drop of water sizzles and immediately evaporates. Brush with melted butter. Ladle 1/4 cup batter for each pancake into the pan and reduce heat to medium-low, cooking until small bubbles appear on top, about 4 minutes. Flip and cook until lightly browned on the second side, a few minutes longer.

Serve Hotcakes Hot

If you’re serving a crowd or just feel like being seamless and professional about your homemade pancakes, keep them warm in an oven heated to 250. (Don’t cover or they will get soggy.) Or be like me and microwave them as needed. The recipe makes about 16, 4-inch pancakes.

Screen Shot 2013-12-15 at 1.19.47 PMIf this wasn’t enough to seduce you, allow me to elaborate my thoughts on all this mildly caloric magic in “What Can I Make With Flour, Eggs, Pasta Sauce & Cheese”? Either way, I wish you a merry week of Christmas preparations or post-Hanukkah chillin.’ I think it would be cosy and merry if we all waited out Advent in a pared down, pile-of-grated-cheese, pillow-of-freshly-beaten egg whites kind of way, and called it Christmas magic.

[Photos: “Eggs,” paul goyette’s photostream, “Tagliatelle!”, Sebastian Mary’s photostream, “Lemon Ricotta Pancakes II,” Patent and the Pantry’s photostream, “Grated Parmesan,” FoodMayhem.com’s photostream]

 
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