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Happy National Nut Day New Zealand!

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I’m nuts about nuts! So, to celebrate National Nut Day, which is today folks, here are a couple of recipes that I know you’ll find useful over the coming summer months.

ROMESCO SAUCE

Romesco (a Spanish almond and red pepper sauce) is delicious dolloped over the following salad and many other salad combinations. It also makes a great sauce for barbecue seafood or roast chicken.

Makes 2 cups

1 cup natural almonds

3 cloves garlic

2 large preserved red peppers, well-drained

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp smoked paprika

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Place almonds and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and process to chop. Add peppers; process to from a thick puree.
  2. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the oil until amalgamated. Add paprika, salt and pepper to taste. Keeps well for up to 1 week if stored in the fridge.

HAZELNUT, BUCKWHEAT & RAW ASPARAGUS SALAD WITH ROMESCO SAUCE

Serves 6

1 recipe Romesco sauce (see above)

1 1/2 cups whole buckwheat (groats)

2 bunches fine asparagus, trimmed

1 cup hazelnuts (or walnuts, if preferred), toasted and chopped

1/3 cup sunflower seeds, toasted

1/3 cup flaxseeds

1/2 cup basil leaves, chopped

1/4 cup extra virgin olive or avocado oil

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

Method:

  1. Cook the buckwheat in plenty of boiling water for 8-10 minutes, or until tender to the bite. Drain well and set aside to cool.
  2. Finely slice the asparagus on an angle. Combine cooled buckwheat with the remaining ingredients and toss well. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  3. Serve topped with dollops of Romesco sauce.

Red between the vines

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Tomatoes that have been allowed to ripen on the vine while the suns turns their skin a deep crimson are pure pleasure to eat. Big, small, round or oval, tomatoes are ripe with the promise of flavour. And these days, tomatoes come in many colours and types, as well – red and yellow, multi-coloured heirloom varieties, cherry, beefsteak, Italian plum or roma tomatoes, green, purple, vine-ripened and pear-shaped – they’re all delicious. Whichever variety you choose, the tomato forms the heart and soul of many recipes for sauces, tarts and pies, bakes, soups and preserves. And nowhere does it shine better than in a salad, tossed with a tasty dressing. So I say, don’t hesitate – dive right into the wide variety of summer-sun-ripened tomatoes while at their peak and most flavourful.

 

COUSCOUS AND FETA STUFFED TOMATOES

Baked tomatoes are an easy summer meal solution. In Mediterranean countries, tomatoes are traditionally stuffed with either meat or rice. I’ve stuffed these tomatoes with fluffy couscous, salty feta and the fragrance of fresh herbs for a change.

Serves 6

1/2 cup couscous

1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock

3 tbsp chopped fresh mint

3 tbsp chopped fresh coriander or parsley

1/4 cup pine nuts

100g feta, crumbled

3 tbsp olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 large ripe tomatoes

1. Place couscous in a bowl. Place stock in a saucepan and bring to the boil then pour over couscous. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and leave to steam for 10 minutes until softened.

2. Fluff up couscous with a fork and mix in herbs, pine nuts, feta and olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Slice the stem end off each tomato. Using a teaspoon, hollow out the centers, removing and discarding the seeds. Fill each tomato with couscous and replace the ends as a lid.

4. Heat oven to 190°C. Place stuffed tomatoes on a lightly oiled baking tray and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until heated through and golden brown. Serve hot with perhaps roast chicken, grilled steak or pan-fried fillets of fish.

Chef’s secret: Never store tomatoes in the fridge as this impairs their falvour. Place tomatoes in a bowl as you would any fruit, and leave them at room temperature. Tomatoes are a sub-tropical fruit and so respond to warmth and sunlight. Once tomatoes are at their optimum state of ripeness, they should be eaten as soon as possible.

 

I’m nuts about nuts

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I confess, I am a bit if a nut nut. I am happy to explain why. First of all, nuts are a great long-term energy source and are rich in mono or polyunsaturated fats – the good guys – that reduce cholesterol and improve blood circulation. Secondly, they contain a nutrient called alpha-linolenic acid that is credited with protecting the heart (60g of nuts two to four times a week can rapidly reduce the risk of heart attacks); and they regulate heartbeat and circulate oxygen in the muscles. Thirdly, they taste fantastic and are said to increase vitality (cashews), assist with depression and sleeplessness (almonds) and improve metabolism (walnuts).

Nuts are not only chock-full of vitamins, minerals and heart-healthy unsaturated fats but they’re a super-satisfying snack; add flavor and crunch to any meal; and are brilliant in baking. That’s why I’m nuts about nuts.

Around the world nuts are enjoyed in many forms. In Europe, almonds and walnuts may appear in muesli or breakfast pastries and roasted chestnuts are sold on the street to nibble on cold days. Peanuts and cashews are ubiquitous in Asian stir-fries and curries either ground or left whole, or rich, buttery nut sauces such as this classic satay sauce are the perfect complement to chargrilled meats or vegetable dishes like gado-gado. In Spanish dishes nuts are sometimes  used to thicken and add texture to sauces.

Let’s not forget that nuts can star in any of the following dishes – stuffings for capsicums and tomatoes, salads, pies (think sweet and pecan) and, of course, pasta sauces such as pesto (made traditionally with pine nuts, but these can be substituted with cashews or walnuts for variety). Or just nibble them on their own as a snack with dried fruits and seeds.

Many people have a favourite nut (almonds are definitely mine) and I have discovered, by experimenting, that nuts are interchangeable in lots of recipes. For instance, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecan, Brazil nuts and even macadamias can be exchanged for the almonds in this cake. Whichever one you choose, people will go nutty over this naturally honey-sweetened cake.

As it is sweetened with honey only, (it does not contain any refined sugar), it tastes wonderfully fragrant. It’s also naturally dairy and gluten free, which is a bonus for those who need this option. But rest assured, it remains flavourful and light with a satisfying damp and nutty texture. It’s lovely for afternoon tea and can also work well for dessert with a dollop of yoghurt, softly whipped cream or ice cream on the side.

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Cook’s tip: Be careful not to overbeat the egg whites—they should be white and very foamy, but not at all stiff or able to hold peaks. If you beat them too much, the cake may sink in the middle as it cools.

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Drizzle finished cake generously with extra honey and sprinkle with toasted sliced almonds

J’adore les Cannelés

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I want to tell you about a French delicacy that I have adored for a long time now. They may look rather plain but don’t judge a Canelé by its simple exterior. With their darkly caramelised, crunchy outside and soft rum and vanilla-scented custard interior these sweet morsels are addictive. For me, it was love at first bite the very first time I tasted a Canelé.

Not to be confused with cannelle (the French word for cinnamon), Canelés de Bordeaux are a truly delicious French pastry/cake creation. As their name implies, Canelés originated in Bordeaux but can now be found in patisseries in Paris and beyond, where they are known as Cannelés Bordelaise (more on this to come, so read on).

Cannelés have a past steeped in folklore and it is not quite known when the first cannelé was made. All that is known about their origin is they were created by nuns in the Bordeaux region of France sometime before The French Revolution – some accounts date their origin back as far as the 14th century. Traditionally, nuns made various baked goodies such as cannelé using egg yolks that were donated by local winemakers who used only the egg whites to clarify their wines.

In the 1980s, the French became concerned that the Cannelé would be corrupted by global food trends, so they formed a fraternity of bakers to protect the integrity of the Cannelé. Much like Champagne, which can only be referred to as such if it is from the Champagne region of France, Canelé can only be called Canelé de Bordeaux if they are made in Bordeaux. Whereas, Cannelé Bordelaise (spelt with an intentional second ‘n’), is the name given to this sweet treat found in bakeries elsewhere in France and now also around the globe.

Just as specialty Macarons shops are springing up all over the world, when I was in Paris earlier this year, I noticed a new phenomenon… specialised Cannelés Bordelaise stores are the new vogue.

You will need specific fluted copper Cannelés moulds and lots of time and patience to make your own Cannelés, but it’s worth perfecting the art, as the results are sublime. Here’s a recipe that I’ve developed that works a treat:

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Cook’s note: ‘White oil’ is made by mixing melted bees wax and then blending in enough neutral oil, such as sunflower or canola oil, to form a smooth white coloured oil. This is traditionally used to brush the cannelé moulds. However, it’s a bit of a palaver to deal with and I find that butter works just as well.

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