In a Hazelnutshell
Local holiday helpers
by Jennifer Burns Levin
Hazelnut season is here: lovely, burnished hazelnuts with cream-colored, meaty flesh. Picking through a big bag of Willamette Valley cracked hazelnuts, now available at local farms and markets, is a hypnotic pleasure of fall for many of us livin’ la vida local.
We all know that Oregon grows 99 percent of the domestic crop of hazelnuts, and that hazelnuts are often called filberts in Willamette Valley orchards even though filberts are a smaller cousin. Locals may not know, however, that the bitter skin and stale taste that often accompany filberts in other parts of the country have no family resemblance to the new crop of plump, creamy Willamette Valley hazelnuts. We must educate the masses: Buy some and give them as holiday gifts to folks who aren’t as fortunate as we are in this nutty paradise.
Keep in mind that both raw and roasted hazelnuts will turn rancid if they aren’t stored in the freezer or processed. A nice, more shelf-stable alternative to hazelnut gift bags is to roast the nuts and “can” them in jars. Heat the nuts in the oven in a shallow layer on a baking sheet at 250 degrees until dry but not browned. This should take 20 to 30 minutes. Stir occasionally, watching for scorching. While the nuts are still hot, pack into half-pint, pint or quart jars with a 1/2-inch headspace, wipe rims of jars, then affix new lids and rings. Process the nuts in a boiling water canner for 30 minutes, with the water level 1-2 inches below the tops, or in a pressure canner for 10 minutes at 6 pounds pressure in a dial gauge canner (or 5 pounds pressure in a weighted gauge canner).
I’ve been sampling glazed nut recipes for holiday snacks for my own holiday gifts. My recipe is adapted from one served at Sub Rosa, an invitation-only restaurant and distillery nestled in a cottage in Dundee that torments the rest of us with the menus on its website. One of these features an appetizer of sweet and spicy rosemary hazelnuts.
My version adds a touch of orange peel to the shower of dark green confetti on the nuts. I have found it isn’t necessary to remove the skins with the new crop, since they are not overly tannic. The skins and orange zest have a slightly bitter sweetness that accentuates and tames the medicinally herbal winter rosemary, and the vinegary hot sauce marries the salt and sugar. With the meaty nuts, we have a perfectly balanced set of the five flavors: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and savory.
More importantly, you can throw these babies together 30 minutes before your holiday potluck. Cool them down to room temperature, and you’re good to go.
Jennifer Burns Levin writes about local food at culinariaeugenius.wordpress.com, where you can find more hazelnut recipes and details on her upcoming Gifts from the Kitchen class.
Spicy Rosemary Hazelnuts with Orange Zest
Makes enough for a party.
4 cups new crop raw hazelnuts
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup fresh rosemary, finely chopped (do not use dried)
1 teaspoon fresh orange zest, finely chopped
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt Several healthy dashes of hot sauce (to taste), or a splash of vinegar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an oblong glass baking dish with vegetable oil, and roast the raw nuts for 10 minutes. (Skip if you are using already roasted nuts.)
In a small bowl, mix together brown sugar, rosemary, salt and hot pepper sauce. Remove nuts from oven, then quickly fold the sugar mixture into the nuts in the pan. Return to oven and bake, stirring every 5 minutes, for 15 minutes or until the sugar melts and nuts are glazed. Keep nuts hot in oven when you stir, or else sugar may clump.
Cool completely. Break hazelnuts apart and store in airtight container at room temperature, or in the refrigerator if the nuts get sticky in humid weather.