Tuesday 14 October 2008

Cooking with Hazelnuts

Yesterday I realized that the hazelnuts on a local tree were ripe and ready for picking and it was a case of collecting them before the local children got to them. As a result there's an update on this blog about within a week of my last post. I know that my aim here is to post about a new wild food every week, but sometimes you have to pick wild foods when they're available rather than when you would like to do so. So here's an unexpected update on hazelnuts and the hazel tree.

Because I now have the hazelnuts and they're green (some I will set aside to dry) here are some of my favourite recipes for green hazelnuts or cobnuts. But, before I go to the recipes here's a brief introduction to hazelnuts:

People have been eating hazelnuts for millennia and we have evidence for large scale hazelnut collection and preparation from 7000 years ago. If you would like to explore what our ancestors may have made with these hazelnuts, check out these ancient hazelnut recipes.

These days, in the main, it's the common hazel, Corylus avellana that's most commonly grown. But development of the wild stock in orchards and gardens has led to a whole range of cultivars and in Britain one of the commonest is the Cobnut or Kentish Cob, originally developed around 1830 and which is now by far the commonest variety. It has a large shell and nut and is noted by remaining green in the shell for a long time after being picked, which makes it excellent for transportation. Another common variety of hazelnut is the filbert Corylus maxima which is native to southeastern Europe and southwestern Asia and most commonly comes from Turkey.

In the recipes below any of these hazel varieties can be used.

We'll start with one of my favourite recipes, a green hazelnut pesto:

Cobnut Pesto

120g cobnuts (shelled weight), lightly toasted
100ml extra-virgin olive oil
100g mint (leaves and tender stems)
2 garlic cloves
salt and black pepper, to taste

Simply combine all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until a smooth pur┼Że is formed. Transfer to a jar and store in the refrigerator (for a slightly richer flavour you can add 50g freshly-grated Parmesan cheese. This pesto makes an excellent crust for lamb chops and also goes well with rich fish such as mackerel, herring or tuna.

(this recipe is adapted, with permission, from the following cobnut or hazelnut posto recipe.)

Hazelnut Halva

This is an adaptation of the classic Middle Eastern dessert/candy that uses hazelnuts rather than the more typical pine nuts or almonds in the mixture.

280g sugar
100ml water
150g blanched hazelnuts, toasted
340g tahini (sesame seed paste)

Begin by laying the blanched hazelnuts on a baking tray and toast in an oven pre-heated to 180°C until lightly coloured. Take out of the oven and immediately transfer to a bowl and when cool chop each one in half with a sarp knife.

Beat the tahini in a large bowl until smooth then set aside. In the meantime, combine the sugar and water in a pan and bring to a boil. Continue boiling until the mixture reaches 125°C (between the Hard Ball stage and the Soft Crack stage). Add the hazelnuts at this stage and stir to combine.

Take the pan off the heat and gradually beat the syrup mixture into the tahini, whisking constantly. Continue beating briskly until the mixture begins to set then press the mixture into the base of an oiled cake tin lined with greaseproof paper. Place in the refrigerator and leave to set for 24 hours.

Remove from the refrigerator, take out of the tin and cut into squares with a sharp knife whilst still cold.

(This recipe is reproduced, with permission from the original Hazelnut Halva/Halwa Recipe.)

For many more hazlenut and cobnut recipes check out the Celtnet Cobnut and Hazelnut recipes collection, which is a part of a much larger collection of nut-based recipes.

For all the wild food recipes on this blog, see the wild food recipes page.

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