Tips for using fresh Oregon hazelnuts

    Among the treasures of Oregon’s fabulous Willamette Valley are orchards producing over 99 percent of the domestic hazelnut crop, and the hazelnut harvest is wrapping up for another year.

    This translates into farmers markets and supermarkets bringing in “new crop” hazelnuts. Here are a few ways to relish their goodness.

    For cooking, I prefer to buy shelled, whole, raw hazelnut kernels either direct from growers or in the bulk sections of grocery stores where I can evaluate their quality up close. Good ones will be generous in size with a smooth surface. They’ll have a rich, sweet and nutty aroma. So when you begin to scoop the nuts from the bin, pay attention. If they don’t seem fresh to you, let someone in the store know about it so they can replenish the bin. Nobody in the hazelnut industry wants you cooking with less than perfect Oregon hazelnuts. You just don’t have to when there are so many high-quality ones available.

    Spinach Salad with Brown Sugar Bacon Vinaigrette and Roasted Hazelnuts

    Makes 6 to 8 servings

    Don’t let the title confuse you. This is not a sweet salad. It’s got just enough whang to go along with a wide range of entrees you might be serving, from roast beef to smoked turkey.

    1 pound tender young spinach, trimmed of coarse stems

    10 slices bacon, snipped crosswise into julienne strips before cooking

    1/3 cup red or white wine vinegar

    1 firmly packed tablespoon golden brown sugar

    ½ teaspoon salt

    ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

    ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

    10 mushrooms, washed, dried and sliced thin

    ½ cup chopped roasted and skinned hazelnuts

    2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and diced

    Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

    Wash spinach well in several changes of cold water, spin dry, then bundle in paper towels and refrigerate. When ready to proceed, mound spinach in a large heat-proof salad bowl.

    Brown bacon in a large, heavy skillet over moderate heat for 3 to 5 minutes, until golden and crispy. Drain the crisp, brown bacon bits on paper towels and set aside.

    Drain off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon drippings. Stir in the vinegar, scraping up all the cooked-on bits of bacon. Whisk in the brown sugar, salt and black pepper. Add the olive oil, then adjust the seasonings; set the dressing aside while you assemble the salad ingredients.

    Tear the spinach into bite-sized pieces, discarding tough stems. For individual servings, divide the spinach between 6 to 8 salad bowls or plates. Over each bowl, layer the mushrooms, hazelnuts and some of the dressing. Sprinkle each serving with some of the egg, crumbled bacon and Parmesan cheese. For one large bowl, prepare as above, and toss the salad at the table, right before serving.

    Hazelnut Panforte

    Makes about 36 (1-by-2-inch) pieces

    Chock-full of toasted hazelnuts and almonds, luscious dried figs and thick, golden honey, this is a fantastic treat. And because it’s sturdy in nature, it gets high grades in the portability department too. You can make several batches now to have on hand for gifts (consider it a sophisticated “fruit cake”) or to tuck into your backpack for winter hikes and ski trips.

    8 ounces dried black Mission figs (other varieties can be used)

    2/3 cup all-purpose flour

    2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

    2 teaspoons freshly grated orange peel

    ½ teaspoon cinnamon

    1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

    1 cup roasted and skinned hazelnuts

    1 cup whole, roasted almonds (see instructions for roasting hazelnuts)

    2/3 cup granulated sugar

    ½ cup honey

    Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

    Butter and flour a 10-inch springform pan and set aside. If you don’t have a springform pan, line a 10-inch round or square baking pan with heavy-duty foil, then butter and flour the foil. The foil will help you lift the baked panforte from the pan after it’s cooled.

    Trim the tiny stem end from each dried fig. Slice the figs into very thin pieces (each tiny little dried fig should be cut into at least 6 slender pieces); set aside.

    In a large bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, orange peel, cinnamon and ground cloves.

    Coarsely chop the hazelnuts and almonds (cut each nut into 2 or 3 pieces). During the chopping, some pieces will get even smaller than that, but the idea is to have fairly large chunks of nuts in the finished panforte. Add the nuts and the prepared figs to the flour mixture and toss thoroughly to evenly coat the fruit and nuts; set aside.

    Pour the sugar and honey into a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan and stir gently to combine. Scrape the sides of the pan with a rubber spatula to remove any honey and sugar crystals. Now set the pan over low heat. Without stirring, let the mixture heat up so the sugar can begin to dissolve. Increase the heat to medium and continue cooking without stirring. The syrup will become quite foamy as it boils. Do not stir the mixture. Hook a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and continue to let the mixture boil without stirring until the thermometer reaches between 240 and 245 degrees, which is the softball stage in candy-making terminology.

    Remove the syrup from the heat and immediately stir it into the flour/fruit/nut mixture. The mixture will firm up immediately, but keep stirring to make sure the syrup is evenly distributed throughout. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Moisten your fingers with tap water and use them to press the thick-and-sticky mixture evenly into the pan.

    Bake in the preheated oven until the mixture puffs slightly and releases a wonderful toasty aroma, about 35 minutes. At this point, the panforte will be soft and sticky when prodded with a dull knife. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack at room temperature. Once the panforte has cooled thoroughly, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and store in a cool, dry place. It will keep for months.

    Panforte that has been baked in a round pan is generally cut into wedges. But for backpacking or hiking purposes, I prefer to cut the round into thirds, then cut each third into ½-inch wide bars.

    — 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. Email her at, or read her blog at

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