Cooking Class: Make a toast

The smell of roasting nuts is irresistible and turns any dish into a delicacy.

nuts 311 (photo credit: MCT)
nuts 311
(photo credit: MCT)
Whenever I stroll near a nut roasting shop, I find the smell so irresistible that it’s almost impossible to go by without stopping in to buy a bagful as a snack.
But roasted nuts, also called toasted nuts, have many uses beyond snacks, and can enhance every part of the menu. You can turn them into delicious nut butters and dips. For ice cream, cakes and other desserts, they make enticing sprinkles.
Think of walnut halves on chocolateglazed cakes or chopped toasted almonds or pistachios on rice pudding. Savory dishes from grain pilafs and cooked vegetables to pasta dishes and green salads are much more appealing when topped with these flavorful, crunchy treats. Toasted sesame, sunflower and shelled pumpkin seeds can be used the same way. Fortunately, nuts are good for you. Healthconscious cooks know that nuts are a valuable source of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. I like toasted nuts even when I wake up. A sprinkling on my oatmeal is a healthy way to make breakfast feel like a special treat.
It’s easy to enjoy the same tempting nutshop aroma in our home kitchens. Roasting nuts is fast and simple. For use in recipes, toasting nuts at home is the way to have them at their freshest. According to Paula Figoni, author of How Baking Works, toasted nuts oxidize more quickly than raw nuts and should be used within a few days.
Besides the aroma, there are additional reasons for toasting nuts. “Nuts are toasted to develop flavor by allowing chemical reactions, including Maillard browning (the reaction of sugars and proteins), to occur,” wrote Figoni. “Toasting also improves the flavor of slightly stale nuts...
and crisps the texture.”
Many cooks find toasting more important for some nuts than for others. “Toasting brings out such rich new flavors that almonds and hazelnuts are virtually transformed,” wrote Alice Medrich, author of Pure Dessert. Figoni agrees: “Of all the nuts, hazelnuts probably benefit the most from toasting.” Because almonds are mild tasting, they are best toasted to develop flavor.
Peanuts are typically toasted because “raw, untoasted peanuts have a beany flavor,” she explains. On the other hand, pistachios are best untoasted or lightly toasted for baking “to preserve their bright green color and distinctive flavor.”
There are two main techniques for toasting nuts and seeds in the oven or in a skillet.
Which to choose depends on the size of the pieces and the amount you are preparing. The oven is good for larger nuts, such as whole almonds, walnut halves and hazelnuts. When roasting small amounts of nuts, a toaster oven is especially convenient.
A skillet is easiest to use for toasting small amounts of seeds, pine nuts and cut nuts such as slivered almonds.
In addition to dry roasting, which is done with nothing added to the nuts, nuts can be oil-roasted. Mark Bittman, author of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, wrote: “Naturally, oil roasting adds fat and calories, but it also adds great flavor, especially if you use peanut or sesame oil or butter; extra virgin olive oil isn’t bad, either.”
• The main mistake people make is trying to toast nuts and seeds too quickly and at too high a temperature.
• As soon as the nuts or seeds have been toasted, they should be removed from the hot pan to prevent burning from carryover cooking.
• Cool toasted nuts before grinding them.
• For freshest flavor, toast nuts shortly before using them. Store leftover toasted nuts in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
It is best to use them within a few days. You can also freeze them.
SKILLET TOASTED NUTS AND SEEDS For small nuts and seeds, a skillet is preferable to the oven because you can watch them easily and there’s less chance of burning them.
Pine nuts: Toast in a dry skillet over medium-low heat, tossing them often, for 2 to 3 minutes, until lightly browned.
Transfer them to a plate.
Sesame seeds or hulled sunflower seeds: Spread them in a dry skillet and toast them over medium-low heat, shaking the pan or stirring constantly for 3 to 4 minutes or until the seeds are fragrant and medium golden brown. Immediately transfer to a plate.
Coconut: Toast in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring, until fragrant and lightly browned, about 2 minutes.
Transfer to a plate.
OVEN-TOASTED NUTS The roasting time of nuts and seeds varies with size and nut variety. Seeds and small nuts like pine nuts, as well as chopped nuts, roast more quickly than larger pieces. Soft nuts like walnuts and pecans take less time than almonds and hazelnuts. Properly toasted nuts should be fragrant and light brown to golden. Check the color and flavor frequently as they roast; cut almonds and hazelnuts in half to check their color inside, which should be light golden brown.
General method: Preheat oven to 175º C. Spread nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toast in oven until aromatic or lightly browned, shaking pan once or twice. Transfer to a plate as soon as they’re ready.
Hazelnuts: Toast about 8 minutes or until their skins begin to split. Transfer to a strainer. While nuts are hot, remove most of skins by rubbing nuts energetically with a towel against strainer.
Whole almonds, with or without skins: Toast in the oven until aromatic about 7 minutes; blanched almonds should brown lightly.
Slivered or sliced almonds: Toast slivered almonds 4 to 5 minutes, and sliced almonds 2 to 3 minutes or until browned lightly.
Walnuts or pecans: Toast until aromatic and very lightly browned, about 5 minutes.
Pine nuts or sesame seeds: Toast in oven about 3 to 5 minutes or until lightly browned.
SPINACH WITH CURRANTS AND NUTS Makes 4 servings This fast, make-ahead vegan recipe is from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.
Mark Bittman writes: A Mediterranean classic, astringent from the spinach, sweet from the currants, crunchy with nuts and just as good at room temperature as it is hot. Other vegetables you can use: almost any greens, chopped, though most will take a little longer to cook; broccoli, cooked until quite tender, is also good this way.
✔ 1⁄4 cup dried currants or raisins ✔ 450 gr. spinach, well washed and trimmed of large stems, steamed or briefly cooked (see Note below) ✔ 1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil ✔ 1 tsp. minced garlic (optional) ✔ 1⁄4 cup broken walnuts or pine nuts, briefly toasted (see Oven-Toasted Nuts, above) ✔ Salt and freshly ground black pepper Soak currants or raisins in warm water for about 10 minutes while you clean and cook the spinach. Steam or parboil the spinach until tender, less than 5 minutes.
When the spinach is cool enough to handle, squeeze out all excess moisture; chop it roughly. Put the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the garlic if you’re using it and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 3 minutes.
Add the spinach and raise the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes. Drain the currants and add them and the nuts. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally for 3 or 4 minutes until everything glistens.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve hot or at room temperature.
Note: To cook spinach: Boil trimmed spinach in a saucepan of boiling salted water uncovered over high heat for 2 minutes or until just tender. Drain.
Serve this lavish dish as to accompany roast chicken, baked fish or stewed or baked vegetables. Use the oven or a toaster oven to toast the almonds and pine nuts.
Pistachios are generally easier to purchase toasted. To make it with a mixture of wild and white rice, see the variation below.
✔ 1⁄3 cup almonds ✔ 1⁄3 cup pine nuts ✔ 13⁄4 cups chicken or vegetable stock or water ✔ Salt and freshly ground pepper ✔ 1 cup wild rice, rinsed and drained ✔ 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil or vegetable oil ✔ 1 large onion, finely chopped ✔ 1⁄4 tsp. ground cinnamon ✔ 1⁄4 cup chopped cilantro (fresh coriander) or parsley ✔ 1⁄4 cup toasted pistachios, shelled ✔ Cilantro or parsley sprigs (for garnish) Preheat oven to 175º C. Toast almonds and pine nuts in a small baking dish in oven for 2 minutes. Add pine nuts and toast nuts together about 3 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool nuts on a plate. Reserve about 2 Tbsp. almonds and pine nuts for garnish. Coarsely chop remaining almonds and pine nuts.
Combine stock, 31⁄4 cups water and a pinch of salt in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Add rice and return to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat for 50 to 60 minutes or until kernels begin to puff open.
Heat oil in a deep skillet or saute pan.
Add onion and saute over medium-low heat about 7 minutes or until golden. Add cinnamon and saute, stirring, 1⁄2 minute.
Drain rice and add to pan of onions. Add chopped nuts and chopped cilantro. Heat together 2 or 3, stirring very gently. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot, sprinkled with toasted pistachios and reserved toasted almonds and pine nuts.
Garnish with cilantro sprigs.
Variation with wild and white rice: Cook 1⁄2 cup wild rice in a mixture of 21⁄2 cups stock and water in a medium saucepan, following directions above.
Combine 3⁄4 cup white rice and 11⁄2 cups water rice in a saucepan with a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat about 12 to 15 minutes or until rice is just tender. Add to pan of onions with the cooked wild rice and chopped nuts.
Faye Levy is the author of Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home.