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July 7, 2020 | Rome, Italy

Nuts to the New Year

By | 2018-03-21T19:47:50+01:00 January 9th, 2016|"Suzanne's Taste"|
Since there are all sorts of mixed nuts on the market, just gather together any combination you like.

ell, I’m having a hard time leaving the spiced nut bag closed. A friend of ours brought a lovely pottery dish full of every imaginable kind of nut to our annual fête, where smoked salmon, caper butter, black-eyed peas, corn bread, and dark chocolate truffles sent everyone off into the new year with good fortune and good health, at least for a day. The champagne probably helped, too.

American Southern tradition holds that fortune comes in the form of serving 365 black-eyed peas or beans, which equal a year’s worth of coins rattling in your pockets. Greater wealth comes in the form of sautéed collard, mustard, or any greens — as in greenbacks — you can muster.

Legend has it that Sherman’s Union troops, while infamously savaging the South during the Civil War, burned off or stole every crop they could find. That left hungry locals with black-eyed peas — which kept them alive. Call it survivor’s luck.

Black-eyed peas are thankfully small enough to fit 365 in a bowl, but I’m not sure anyone really sticks to that. More like 730, if you ask the cook.

Honestly, though, I think it’s the smoked ham hock that brings them back for seconds. But when the magic nuts hit the table, the guests formed a queue and left the beans to bubble.

My nutty friend is a Spain-shopper, which is to say that living in France, she can find amazing bargains just over the border in Jonquera, home to infamous brothels and enormous supermarkets with aisles and aisles of low-cost booze and excellent foodstuffs.

Her much-tweaked nut recipe began as a sort of raw nut trail mix with raisins as co-conspirators (she confessed to picking out the raisins with her husband before turning them into manna).

There are all sorts of mixed nuts on the market, so my advice is gather together any combination you like. Twists and turns can come later, depending on flavor. My pick would be almonds, skinned and un-skinned, peanuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios and even Brazil nuts, if you can find them.

Here’s the rub for nuts to knock your socks off:

  • 2 1/2 cups mixed nuts.

  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon.

  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin.

  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper.

  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder.

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger.

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves.

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt.

  • 2 tablespoons raw or brown sugar.

  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped fine.

  • Pinch of chili pepper.

  • Pinch of black pepper.

  • 2 tablespoons melted butter.

— While hoping to find everything you need in the pantry, heat the oven to 375F/190C.

— In a large bowl, toss the nuts together, then spread them on a baking sheet and roast for 10-15 minutes, depending on your oven.

— When you can smell the almonds and they take on a nice color, you can be pretty sure they are done. Take one out, let it cool and see if it crunches under your teeth. Then you’ll know for sure.

— In another bowl, mix all the spices and melted butter. Toss the warm nuts with the mixture and let cool before serving.

If you ask me, the result is a sure thing on the luck front. Eating 365 of them would probably double your money.

In case you’re wondering how to make caper butter, my trick is to mash a small jar of drained capers with two sticks or about 200 grams of very soft butter. Caper butter is great for smoked salmon appetizers, as the capers don’t roll of the salmon as they do when served separately.

About the Author:

Suzanne Dunaway
Suzanne Dunaway, a longtime major magazine writer and artist, is the author and illustrator of "Rome, At Home, The Spirit of La Cucina Romana in Your Own Kitchen" (Broadway Books) and "No Need To Knead, Handmade Italian Breads in 90 Minutes" (Hyperion). She taught cooking for 15 years privately and at cooking schools in Los Angeles, and now maintains a personal website and a blog. She divides her time between southern France and Italy.

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