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Hazelnuts are dropping again

When considering availability, there’s a tendency to put Oregon hazelnuts into the “year-round” category, which is generally correct, thanks to controlled atmosphere storage, excellent distribution networks, and the nuts’ natural keeping qualities.

But last fall I was reminded of just how seasonal they are when I needed some and couldn’t find them. Even one of the city’s major supermarkets told me their supplies were depleted and to come back in mid October.

The upside was that I got a fresh product once they finally came to town.

Well, they’ve come to town again, because early autumn is when hazelnuts begin to drop from the trees.

If you intend to squirrel away large quantities for the winter, keep in mind that exposure to air, light, warmth and moisture will hasten rancidity. If you have an area that eliminates those conditions, then large quantities are best stored in their shells. On the other hand, shelled nuts take up less room and fare very well in the freezer.

Mushroom Hazelnut Pate

This is the wonderful pate that I discovered through Margy and Dave Buchanan, Corvallis-area hazelnut growers and owners of Tyee Winery. They serve it in the tasting room during the annual Thanksgiving weekend open house. It’s heavenly, spread on thin slices of sourdough bread.

1 cup hazelnuts

1/4 cup butter

1 small onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced or pressed

3/4 pound mushrooms, sliced

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon thyme

1/8 teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil (preferably hazelnut oil)

Toast nuts in a 300-degree oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and then rub the nuts in a towel to remove skins.

Melt butter in pan, over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, mushrooms, salt, thyme and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft and most of the pan juices created from the mushrooms have evaporated. In food processor, puree nuts to form a paste (Note: Margy says it never really quite becomes a paste). With motor running, add oil and whirl until creamy. Add mushroom mixture and continue blending until smooth. Serve with crackers or French bread (“It’s definitely best with thin slices of sourdough French bread,” says Margy.). Will keep in the refrigerator for two weeks or longer. Yields about 1 pint.

Recipe from “Sunset Vegetarian Cooking,” by the editors of Sunset Magazine and Sunset Books.

Chanterelle Soup with Dried Apples, Hazelnuts and Apple Brandy

This soup can be made several days ahead and refrigerated.

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 ribs celery, chopped

2 parsnips, peeled and chopped

2 yellow onions, chopped

1 bulb fennel, trimmed and chopped

1 leek (white part only), washed and chopped

3 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons water

2 pounds fresh chanterelle or cremini mushrooms, or a mixture, wiped clean and thinly sliced

8 cups chicken stock or broth

1 cup apple cider

3 medium-sized Yukon Gold or russet potatoes, peeled and chopped

1 tablespoon fennel seeds, toasted and ground (see note)

1/4 cup apple brandy or hard apple cider

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup chopped dried apples

1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and finely chopped

6 fresh sage leaves, thinly sliced crosswise

In a heavy 4-quart pot, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over low heat. Add the celery, parsnips, onions, fennel, leek and 1 teaspoon of the salt, and saute for 5 minutes. Stir in the water and 1/2 pound of the mushrooms, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the stock and cider and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the potatoes and ground fennel seeds and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft. Let cool. In a food processor or blender, puree the soup, in batches if necessary. For a very creamy soup, press the puree through a fine-meshed sieve; set aside.

In a heavy 4-quart pot, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Add the remaining mushrooms and saute until soft, about 8 minutes. Add the brandy or hard cider, vinegar, pepper and the remaining 2 teaspoons salt, and simmer for about 5 minutes. Pour in the pureed soup. Heat until warm.

To serve, ladle into soup bowls. Garnish with the apples, hazelnuts and sage. Makes 8 servings.

Note on fennel seed: There are two methods for toasting; an oven method and a stove-top method. For the oven method, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Put the desired amount of seeds in a single layer on a jelly-roll pan. Toast in the oven for 10 minutes, or until they begin to darken in color, occasionally shaking the pan so the seeds will toast evenly. Remove the seeds from the oven and pour them onto a cool pan.

For the stove-top method, preheat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the seeds and cook, shaking the pan, until the seeds begin to darken and become very aromatic, which will take about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the seeds from the pan to a cool pan or plate.

Grind the seeds to a powder in either a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle.

Recipe adapted from “Wildwood, Cooking from the Source in the Pacific Northwest,” by Cory Schreiber.

Salmon With Hazelnut Sauce

4 wild salmon fillets (about 5 ounces each)

Flour

1/3 cup clarified butter (see note)

Salt and white pepper to taste

2 finely minced cloves garlic

1 tablespoon minced shallots

1/3 cup ground roasted hazelnuts

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/3 cup madeira

1/2 cup fish stock, fish bouillon or chicken broth

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

3/4 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon frangelico (hazelnut liqueur)

Dredge the salmon fillets in flour. Heat the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Brown both sides of the salmon fillets in the butter. Add salt and white pepper to taste.

When the fish is browned on both sides, add the minced garlic, shallots, ground hazelnuts and the lemon juice. Cook until garlic and shallots have softened a bit, about 30 seconds. Deglaze the pan with the madeira and fish stock by scraping and dissolving all the cooked-on bits of food.

When the salmon is cooked through (another few minutes), remove them to a warm plate. Stir in the mustard and heavy cream and bring the sauce to a simmer, cooking until it reduces slightly and thickens. Add the frangelico and heat through for about 30 seconds. Drizzle the sauce over the fillets and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Note on clarified butter: Clarified butter can be cooked at a higher temperature without scorching. If you’d like to make some, it will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator and is worth the effort. Place 1/2 pound of butter in a glass measuring cup or bowl. Add 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil (such as safflower, canola or corn). Place the bowl in a pan of water and bring the water to a boil. Cook at least 30 minutes over medium-low heat until the butter melts and the fat moves to the top, and the whey (the opaque, white substance) goes to the bottom. Remove from the heat and skim the clear yellow butter oil from the top, leaving the whey in the bottom. Store in the refrigerator up to several weeks.

Recipe adapted from “Bay and Ocean - Ark Restaurant Cuisine,” by Nanci Main and Jimella Lucas.

Hazelnut Praline Powder

A jar of this stardust powder, made by pulverizing a brittle confection of toasted hazelnuts, is culinary money in the bank. It keeps for months at room temperature, even longer in the freezer, always ready to enhance desserts and pastries.

1 cup whole unblanched hazelnuts, lightly toasted

3/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons light corn syrup

3 tablespoons water

1/4 teaspoon salt, optional

Butter a cookie sheet lightly. Spread the toasted nuts on it and place them in a 250-degree oven to warm through. Leave them for 10 minutes, shaking the pan once or twice. Turn off the oven, open the door, and leave the pan in it.

Combine the sugar, corn syrup and water in a small heavy saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. After boiling starts, wipe down with a wet pastry brush any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan. Boil the syrup until it begins to turn a light caramel color; it will register between 320 and 340 on a candy/jelly thermometer. Remove from heat and quickly add the salt, if you are using, and the warmed nuts. Stir the mixture quickly (it hardens up fast!), then pour it onto the buttered cookie sheet that held the nuts; spread it out with a wooden spoon or spatula.

Cool the brittle completely, then break it into small pieces. Working in batches, grind it to a fairly fine powder in a food processor or blender. Store the Praline Powder in an airtight container. Will keep several months at room temperature, or at least 2 years in freezer. Yields about 2 cups.

Recipe from “Fancy Pantry” by Helen Witty.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Contact her at janrd@proaxis.com. See more recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.

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