Nuts for Hazelnuts
In the kitchen, the nuts of the hazel tree are among the most versatile of their kind. With an affinity for chocolate, caramel and coffee, they’re best known in sweet products like Frangelico liqueur and the Italian breakfast spread Nutella. But hazelnuts—also called filberts—shine in savory dishes, too.
“I think it’s one of the quintessential Oregon ingredients,” says Greg Higgins, owner/chef of Higgins restaurant in Portland. “We use hazelnuts in almost any recipe that calls for walnuts or almonds: nettle or basil pestos, romesco and mole sauces, the Middle Eastern dip muhammara. We crust fish with them, garnish salads, make savory cheese tarts, use them in charcuterie—the list is pretty much endless.”
At Deane House in Calgary, Alberta, owner Sal Howell offers dishes like salted cabbage and hazelnuts over chicken liver mousse, and a smoked lentil hummus with hazelnuts and goat feta.
“Because of their buttery mouthfeel, I find hazelnuts a great pairing for bitter vegetables like broccoli rabe, radicchio, endives… as well as adding flavor and texture to green salads,” she says. “But another, less-explored use is braising them in soups and stews. It softens them slightly and draws out the flavorful oils into the dish.”
Europeans consume almost 10 times more hazelnuts than Americans do.
Approximately 75 percent of the world’s hazelnuts are grown in Turkey, followed by Italy and the U.S., where the vast majority comes from Oregon.
The Greek physician Dioscorides used burnt hazelnut shells mashed with suet as a cure for baldness.
Established in 1892, the Dorris Ranch Living History Filbert Farm in Springfield, Oregon, is the nation’s oldest commercial hazelnut farm in continuous operation.
“Hazelnuts are a very wine-friendly nut,” says Higgins. “They have a rich creamy flavor, but aren’t too tannic like walnuts, or too oily and pungent like pine nuts.”
For recipes involving cheese or cream, Higgins recommends a lightly oaked white wine. Something vegetal, like a hazelnut pesto, pairs well with a fruity Pinot Noir.
For an inspired pairing with any hazelnut dish, look to Fiano di Avellino DOCG, a white wine from Campania in southern Italy. It has a distinct toasted hazelnut quality, perhaps thanks to the hazelnut trees that grow alongside the vineyards.
Courtesy Greg Higgins, chef and owner, Higgins Restaurant and Bar, Portland, Oregon
This dessert takes advantage of many flavors that marry beautifully with hazelnuts—chocolate, orange, dairy. Try it for breakfast with a little Greek yogurt in place of ice cream.
- 1½ cups toasted and skinned hazelnuts
- 1½ cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons hazelnut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon minced or grated orange zest
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
- ¼ cup semisweet chocolate bits
Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter and flour an 8- to 10-inch springform pan. In food processor, chop hazelnuts into coarse meal. Set aside.
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. Using stand mixer or handheld mixer in large bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add oil and orange zest. Add eggs individually, beating 20 seconds after each addition. Add flour mixture and milk, alternating between them and beating after each addition just to combine.
Fold in hazelnuts and chocolate. Pour finished batter into prepared springform pan. Bake 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool on rack 15 minutes. Remove sides from pan. Let cool completely.
Churchill’s NV 30 Years Old Tawny (Port); $70, 94 points. The liquorous old gold color of this wine indicates the long barrel aging. It is rich with spice, dried fruits and old wood flavors all finely interwoven. The wine, which originated in a field blend of old vines, has a final shot of acidity to bring it to life. —Roger Voss
Ramekins of any size can be used here: small ones for individual appetizers or larger ones to share. This recipe will fill about six small ramekins or four large ones, and it can easily be halved.
- 2 tablespoons hazelnut oil (available in specialty stores or online), plus additional to coat ramekins and garnish
- 1 cup whole toasted and skinned hazelnuts, plus additional for garnish
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 4 large cloves roasted garlic, mashed to paste (optional)
- 8 ounces crumbled goat cheese
- 4 sheets leaf gelatin
- Salt, to taste
Brush ramekins lightly with hazelnut oil. Set aside.
Chop hazelnuts finely in food processor or blender. In a saucepan over medium heat, bring milk, cream, garlic and ground hazelnuts to simmer. Just before it boils, remove from heat and let steep 20 minutes. Pass through chinois or other fine strainer, pressing on hazelnuts to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard pulp, and set aside strained milk mixture.
Add goat cheese and hazelnut oil to milk mixture. Return to saucepan, and set over low heat. Bring to simmer, and whisk to combine and melt cheese. While heating, soak gelatin by covering in cold water for 5 minutes. Squeeze excess water from gelatin sheets and add to milk mixture. Whisk until gelatin melts and dissolves. Salt to taste.
Pour mixture into ramekins. Refrigerate at least 24 hours to fully set. To serve, run knife around edges of ramekins to loosen panna cotta, then invert onto plates. Drizzle with hazelnut oil. Garnish with chopped toasted hazelnuts.
Robert Mondavi 2014 To Kalon Vineyard Estate Grown Reserve Fumé Blanc (Oakville); $40, 95 points. From the beautiful, historic site planted to some of the oldest vines of the variety in Northern California, this delicious white explodes in juicy green apple and an intensity of fresh-squeezed lemon. That succulence lingers atop a lengthy, salty texture wrapped in subtle, supportive oak. Editors’ Choice. —Virginie Boone
- 1Hazelnut Torte
- 2Savory Hazelnut Panna Cotta