How to dry, toast, skin and cook with raw hazelnuts

Romesco makes the most of hazelnuts.
Romesco makes the most of hazelnuts. Photo: William Meppem

We have two hazelnut trees. How do you prepare hazelnuts for use? J. Muntz

Hazelnut trees once covered vast swathes of northern Europe and Britain.

The nuts are 61 per cent fat and 15 per cent protein and, for thousands of years, were a significant source of energy and nutrition across Europe.

Since before Roman times, hazelnuts were pounded with herbs to make a pesto-like sauce, and made into unleavened cakes with dried fruit and spice.

In Spain, ground hazelnuts are still added to thicken wet meat dishes.

For those who have never seen a hazelnut tree, they are a large spreading shrub with slightly serrated leaves that turn a beautiful array of ochre colours in autumn.

The nuts form over summer and, in most varieties, drop to the ground in autumn and must be dried on wire racks for several weeks.

  • The hard casing can be cracked with a nutcracker to reveal the nut and its brown skin.
  • To remove the skin, spread the hazelnuts out on a roasting tray in a single layer and toast in the oven at 180C for 10 minutes.
  • Tip onto a clean tea towel, cover for a minute, then rub the warm hazelnuts together inside the tea towel to remove the skin.

One of the world's greatest hazelnut-based sauces is romesco, from Tarragona in Catalonia.

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  1. You can make it rich, red, and delicious by roasting two red capsicums and two ripe tomatoes on a tray in a hot oven until the capsicum skin is blackened and soft.
  2. Remove the skin and seeds from the veg and place in a blender with 100g toasted hazelnuts, and one thick slice of sourdough bread, which has been shallow-fried in olive oil.
  3. Add 100ml extra virgin olive oil, 60ml sherry vinegar, one teaspoon smoked paprika, four anchovies, and half a teaspoon salt.
  4. Blend until it looks like wet, red chunky peanut butter.
  5. Serve on grilled fish, chicken, lamb chops, and veg. It's also delicious as a dip.

If I make a pie with frozen mince, can I freeze the pie? G. McGillivray

Yes. Most frozen foods can be thawed, cooked, then refrozen if they have not been sitting at room temperature for more than two hours.

So, as you're going to cook the mince to make the filling and then bake it at about 180C, the mince will be virtually pasteurised.

You will need to allow the pie to cool for no more than two hours at room temperature, then wrap and freeze it immediately. It will store in the freezer for up to four months.

Freezing does affect the texture of food, so freezing and thawing ingredients will make them release more water each time, making for sloppy dishes.

Letters

A few weeks back, we wrote about clotted cream. K. Callister wrote, "I lived in Devon for many years where clotted cream was spread on scones and topped with jam to make 'authentic' Devonshire tea. If the cream went on top of the jam, it was a Cornish tea."

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