In case you haven’t noticed, city nut foraging season is upon us.
I passed by Oosterpark today and noticed a middle aged chap, ferreting around in the undergrowth at one corner of the park, with his young son calling directions to him from outside of the fence. Ah ha Hazelnuts!, I thought and I was so not disappointed when I dived into the same bushes!
During a five minute squirrel-style frenzy, in the soil and dry leaves, I managed to amass a few dozen prime city Hazelnuts (Nl: Hazelaar, Corylus avellana) Delighted, is an understatement! Spurred on by my success, i took a quick tram ride home and sped to a copse of Hazel and Beech at the bottom end of Pythagorasstraat. That spot is a local’s favourite; There is a well trodden path into the copse and a scarcity of nuts but none the less, I didn’t go home empty handed! Later today, I’ll probably toast them all, add some to a hor chocolate and add the rest to Frank’s muesli tub. They should last a couple of weeks in that.
If you’ve never toasted Hazelnuts yourself, and if you like the taste of chocolate, then I implore you to have a go. Buy some from Odin or your local grocery store or better still, get outside and forage a handful yourself. Lear how to identify the tree and get hunting beneath them and I the branches. Green and brown hazelnuts are just fine but the free ones need to be used almost instantly whereas the others should keep up to a year, if stored properly.
How to toast hazelnuts
1. Once dusted off a little, crack them open and discard the shells (return them to the forage spot if possible). Some shells may be empty – hedge blanks. It’s a pity if you find only those.
2. Spread the nuts on a baking tray and give them just a glance of olive oil. To do this you can pour a little into a corner of the tray and toss them all around until they glisten or brush them with a little oil.
3. Set in an oven which has been preheated to about 180°C, leave them to cook for about ten minutes.
3. Remove from the oven (as with all nuts, watch out for explosions, maybe cover with a clean tea-towel as you maneuver them from the oven. Let them cool before using or eating.
The smell in your kitchen should be sweetly, nuttily, mouthwatering after that short time and if you are anything like me, I doubt that many of the toasted nuts will actually make it to a muesli bowl. Lots of recipes make good use of Hazelnuts, both savory and sweet. I think that in combination with chocolate they are at there best. So for me that could mean simply smashing a toasted nut and crumbling it over a hot chocolate or to garnish a chocolate dessert. Or it could mean incorporating it into a dish. Nut roasts are a good way to use up heaps of nuts but I rarely have heaps and I like them to last a while rather than being wolfed down in one sitting. Sprinkled over a bowl of homemade pumpkin soup is another easy way to incorporate them.
You can also make Hazelnut milk for the fresh nuts, as described in the River Cottage Handbook no. 7 Hedgerow, by John Wright (see books page). Soak a handful of shelled fresh nuts in water overnight, rinse and blitz in a liquidiser with about 400ml water or skimmed milk. Strain through a cheesecloth or similar.