Nuts about nuts

BY JAN BILTON
Last updated 10:32 23/09/2010
Nutty chicken
JAN BILTON
Nut-crusted chicken: You can use chopped macadamia nuts or hazelnuts to replace the almonds in this recipe.

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New Zealand nut growers are an adventurous lot. A few years ago walnuts were the only common nut harvested commercially in this country.

Today macadamia nut orchards flourish, together with hazelnuts and almonds. Pistachio nuts, pine nuts, peanuts and chestnuts are in the experimental stages.

The sight of some glorious local almond trees in blossom prompted me to go nutty this week. Almond trees enjoy long hot summers and crisp, frosty winters to produce premium quality nuts. Fresh almonds are a treat and, as with most other nuts, they are rich in concentrated protein and monounsaturated fat. Apart from chestnuts, nuts contain very little starch.

Although high in kilojoules and fat, nuts can reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering blood cholesterol.

Although growers are producing top-quality fresh nuts for local and export markets, they are also extending their product lines. Uncle Joe's Walnut Oil has won first prize in the New Zealand oil competitions for three years in a row. Their walnut paste is perfect spread over fish before grilling or baking and the new hazelnut meal (finely chopped hazelnuts) and walnut meal are excellent for baking and desserts.

Hazelnuts, also called filberts, have a sophisticated flavour, which enhances sweet dishes and liqueurs. Removing the skins from hazelnuts is time consuming but worth it. Roast the nuts at 180C for about 10 minutes or until lightly coloured, then place them in a large sieve and shake. This should remove most of the skins. Rub the rest off with a clean tea towel.

New Zealand's macadamia nut industry is thriving. Commercial sized orchards were not established until the 1970s but macadamias are flourishing in Northland, north and south Auckland, Taranaki, Coromandel, the Bay of Plenty, and Hawke's Bay-East Coast. Macadamia nut oil is great for dressings, frying or baking.

The best way to store nuts is in their shells. This protects them from light, heat, moisture and exposure to air, all of which can cause rancidity.

Store shelled nuts in the refrigerator or freezer to keep them fresh.

NUT-CRUSTED CHICKEN

2 large skinned and boned chicken breasts

2 tsp balsamic vinegar

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 clove garlic, crushed

4 Tbsp cornflour

walnut or hazelnut oil

2 Tbsp orange juice or water

1 egg

70g sliced almonds. Chopped macadamia nuts or hazelnuts could replace the almonds.

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Halve each chicken breast lengthwise.

Combine the balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic, 2 tablespoons of cornflour and the orange juice or water. Mix well. Marinate the chicken in this mixture for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Place 2-3 tablespoons of oil in an oven pan and heat for 5 minutes. Lightly beat the egg together with the remaining 2 tablespoons of cornflour. Place the almonds on a board. Dip the chicken portion into the egg mixture then coat with the almonds.

Place in the hot oil in the oven pan. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until cooked and golden. Great served with a fresh fruit salsa or plum sauce. Serves 4.

WALNUT & WHITE CHOCOLATE COOKIES

If walnut meal is unavailable, use finely chopped walnuts.

1 1/2 cups plain flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

pinch salt

125g butter, softened

1/4 cup walnut or canola oil

3/4 cup brown sugar, lightly packed

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1/2 tsp vanilla essence

3/4 cup white chocolate chips or chopped white chocolate

1 cup walnut meal

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl. Using an electric beater, mix the butter, oil and sugar in a deep bowl, until creamy. Beat in the egg, vanilla, white chocolate and walnut meal. Mix well with a wooden spoon.

Roll into a 35cm long log. Wrap in plastic film and chill for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 190C. Line one or two baking trays with baking paper. Cut the dough into 2cm-thick rounds and place on the baking trays about 3cm apart. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until golden. Cool the cookies on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container. Makes about 27.

MACADAMIA NUT & MASCARPONE ICECREAM

300g mascarpone

1 cup plain yoghurt

3/4 cup caster sugar

1/2 cup milk

1 cup macadamia nuts, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped

Whisk the mascarpone, yoghurt, caster sugar and milk, until well blended. Fold in half the nuts. Freeze in an icecream maker or place in a bowl, cover and freeze until almost solid.

Beat well then return to the freezer. Serve topped with the remaining nuts. Serves 6-8.

GLUTEN-FREE HAZELNUT MACAROONS

3/4 cup hazelnut meal or finely chopped hazelnuts

2 egg whites

6 Tbsp caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 150C. Line a baking tray with baking paper.

Reserve 2 tablespoons of the hazelnut meal for garnishing.

Whisk the egg whites in a bowl until very stiff. Beat in half the sugar and beat again until the mixture becomes shiny. Fold in the hazelnut meal and the remainder of the sugar. Place heaped dessertspoons of the mixture on the baking paper. Sprinkle with the reserved hazelnut meal.

Bake for 50-60min until set and slightly browned. Cool. Makes 15.

Copyright Jan Bilton

- The Marlborough Express

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