If one excepts bitter almonds it is rather difficult to decide whether nuts should be regarded as a flavouring or not. Often they are put into dishes to provide texture; often they are really a basic ingredient. But nuts do also provide an extra flavour so perhaps they ought to be mentioned. Almonds, pine and pistachio nuts, peanuts and, on a whim, the mysterious ginkgo nuts have separate sections.
FR: Chataigne, Marron
BOT: Castanea sativa
sweet chestnuts. The common European (Spanish) chestnut is Castanea sativa, but many other species are cultivated from North America to China and Japan. Wild chestnuts extend over a wide area in Europe, but it is in the countries of southern Europe that the large improved varieties are grown. Many do not realize that the number of varieties runs into hundreds. They vary in flavour, sweetness and keeping quality, but the character by which most cooks will judge a variety is whether the brown inner covering will peel off easily or not. The trick is to slit the casing and roast them in the oven. The casing will then split and can be broken away. But usually a brown bitter astringent skin still adheres to the nut, especially in much folded varieties. Often this will come away if the nuts are fried in a little hot oil, but no treatment will shift the skin cleanly from a bad variety. This is why, though one tries the tricks one reads about, one is so often disappointed. It would be better if the shops could name the variety as they do with apples.
What is Nut and How Do You Use It? Photo Gallery
Chestnuts are the basis of many sweet dishes from the countries of southern Europe, particularly from Italy and are used in sauces for meat dishes, when the sweetness of the chestnut is distinctive. They also make a soup, and are served as a garnish or a vegetable.
FR: Aveline GER: HaselnuR IT: Nocciola SP: Avellana
BOT: Corylus avellana and other Corylus species FAM: Betulaceae
hazel nuts, barcelonas, cobs, filberts. Nuts of this type grow wild wherever the climate is suitable in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and North America. There are many commercial varieties. Ground hazel nuts are used in confectionery and also in meat dishes. In some countries they are commonly added to liver dishes and are found in Middle Eastern cooking. Roasted they are an important part of the flavour of Romesco sauce.
FR: Cerneau (Green Walnut), Noix GER: WalnuR IT: Noce
SP: Nuez de Nogal
BOT: Juglans regia (European Walnut)
walnuts. The European walnut is one of many species found over the northern hemisphere, often in mountainous country. (The pecan [Carya pecan] and other American hickories are related and have somewhat similar flavours. They are used particularly in confectionery.) Walnuts are, however, well established in the traditional cooking of Europe and the Middle East. Green walnuts are pickled in vinegar, preserved in syrup, made into liqueurs (brou de noix) or their soft centres are eaten with verjuice or vinegar, salt, pepper and shallot. Walnuts which are barely ripe have a very delicate flavour. In the Middle East, the husked nuts are often sold soaked in iced water so that the skin can be peeled off. They are then even more delicate and delicious. Mature nuts are a common flavouring in cakes, but are also used in stuffings and sauces for chicken (Circassian chicken, for instance) in the Middle East, in raito, a traditional dish of salt cod from Provence, and inpesto, from Italy. Walnut oil was once much used in France as a cooking and salad oil, but is now rather expensive.
Careful selection of walnuts is important because there are many varieties of varying excellence: also, stale walnuts become rancid.
Readers interested in the subject of nuts are recommended to consult Nuts by Dr F. N. Howes (Faber & Faber, 1948) which deals fully with not only temperate nuts but also with tropical species.