Snacking on zesty nut mix

ledeNutzThe phenomenon of reaching for the crunchy/salty in times of need — stress, depression, boredom, etc. — is not new. Studies have shown that the crunchy/salty elevates the mood, with both a texture and taste satisfaction. Thus, popcorn and other crispy sorts have always been high on my list. And nuts! Who cannot love them? They are fatty, for sure, but it is now known they contain good fats, and nuts are also loaded with protein and other healthful benefits making them an ideal snack.

rosemry01That being said, it is the holidays. If you are going to have nuts, why not jack them up a bit? By jacking them up, I mean a little salt, a little butter, a little brown sugar, a kick of cayenne and chopped rosemary. Sound strange? Anyone who has ever tasted this recipe from San Francisco’s Union Square Cafe would agree that any strangeness falls away upon the first crunch of these warm, slightly sweet, deeply flavorful bits of heaven. In this case, strangeness equals love.

I made the recipe a few years ago and return to it time and again. It takes only about 15 minutes to come up with a snack for a party or gathering or a bowl to dig greedily through solo while watching a favorite flick. The star flavor here is rosemary. While I know fresh rosemary isn’t pickable year-round everywhere, if you can find some, do it, as it is essential for the herb-y zest of this recipe. I am fortunate to have rosemary within spitting distance. Rosemary, in fact, is a heavy part of Northern California landscaping, as it should be. That earthy aroma is like no other. Sometimes I go outside and just run it through my fingers for an olfactory lift.

nutz03Pick your nuts…any of your favorites. I like walnuts, cashews for sure, pecans and almonds, but you could use pistachios, peanuts, hazelnuts, etc. Toast the nuts at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

spices01While the nuts toast, you have time to blend the other ingredients in a large bowl. The hot nuts are then added and mixed, the heat from those crunchy devils will loosen up the mix and allow it to evenly coat. Pour them into a pretty dish should you want a festive starter at your next mixup. Eat the nuts warm (like donuts, a warm nut is better than a cold one, anyday), but they are almost as tasty once cooled and you can keep them in an airtight container to graze upon at your leisure.

But I have doubts they’ll hang around for very long.nutz04

The Union Square Cafe’s Bar Nuts
Recipe from Nigella Lawson, www.foodtv.com
Makes about 2 1/4 cups mixed nuts

2 1/4 cups (18-ounces) assorted unsalted nuts, including peeled peanuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans and whole unpeeled almonds
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons Maldon or other sea salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Toss the nuts in a large bowl to combine and spread them out on a baking sheet. Toast in the oven until light golden brown, about 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the rosemary, cayenne, sugar, salt and melted butter.

Thoroughly toss the toasted nuts in the spiced butter and serve warm. And once you eat these, you will never want to stop.

Blogger’s Note: Depending on your taste, you can adjust the seasonings. I have used slightly less salt, slightly more brown sugar and less cayenne.

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