"I left these on my kitchen counter and by midafternoon the bowl was almost empty."
Memorable dinners don't have to begin with fancy canapés or the perfect amuse-bouche. More often than not, a bowl of mixed nuts or a hunk of cheese and some crackers are an ideal way to welcome your guests, along with a cocktail or a glass of wine. Even a culinary mastermind like Thomas Keller agrees that a few bowls of nuts are a perfectly acceptable hors d'oeuvre. Here are a pair of recipes to add a little extra panache to simple and satisfying roasted nuts.
I was curious to see how Keller would handle a preparation that usually requires nothing more than some oil olive or butter and a sprinkling of salt. In these recipes for Candied Pecans and Herbed Toasted Walnuts from Ad Hoc at Home, Keller keeps the list of ingredients to a minimum but employs a few extra cheffy techniques that keep these nuts from tasting like they came from a can.
The pecans are coated in clover honey and roasted at a temperature low enough that the honey permeates the surface and leaves the nuts with a caramelized honey flavor that is deep and rich, almost like a praline without the cloying sweetness. Two hours might seem like a long time to spend on a simple snack but one taste and all of that time will be well worth it.
Walnuts are not the most popular nuts around, falling well behind cashews, hazelnuts, and even the lowly peanut in popularity. By toasting the walnuts and tossing them in a butter infused with chopped fresh herbs, Keller makes walnuts into something you have to force yourself to stop eating. I left these on my kitchen counter and by midafternoon the bowl was almost empty—there was just something about the combination of that herbed butter, toasty walnuts, and crunchy fleur de sel.
Win Ad Hoc at Home
As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Ad Hoc at Home to give away this week.
- 3 cups raw pecan halves
- 3 tablespoons clover honey
- 3/4 teaspoon ground fleur de sel or fine sea salt, plus a pinch
- 3 cups raw walnut halves
- 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter
- 3/4 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
- 3/4 teaspoon finely chopped oregano
- 3/4 teaspoon finely chopped thyme
- 3/4 teaspoon finely chopped parsley
- Pinch of ground fleur de sel or fine sea salt
Position the racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 250°F.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the nuts on the pan. Warm in the oven for 5 minutes (warming the nuts helps prevent them from crystalizing the honey).
Meanwhile, pour the honey unto a small saucepan and warm over medium heat.
Pour the nuts in a bowl, add the honey, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Stir to coat the nuts evenly with the honey.
Line two baking sheets with Silpats and spread the nuts on the sheets. Sprinkle with the remaining 3/4 teaspoon of salt. Bake for 2 hours, rotating the pans halfway through baking.
Remove the pans from the oven and separate any nuts that cling together. Let the nuts cool on the pans. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
Herbed Toasted Walnuts
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set a cooling rack on a second baking sheet.
Spread the nuts on the lined baking sheet and toast them in the oven for 7 minutes. Rotate the pan and toast for 5 to 8 minutes longer, until the nuts are fragrant and lightly colored.
Meanwhile, combine the butter and herbs in a small saucepan over medium heat. As soon as the butter begins to bubble, remove from the heat and set aside to infuse while the nuts toast.
Pour the butter mixture into a medium bowl, add the salt, and swirl the butter around the sides of the bowl. Add the nuts and toss to coat. Transfer the nuts to a rack and drizzle any remaining butter over them. Let cool slightly. Since these are coated in butter, they are best served warm.
To store, cool the nuts completely, then store in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Reheat on a baking sheet in a warm oven before serving.