Creating a new recipe is rarely a solo process. Today’s recipe for an amazing pesto is a case in point. Here’s how it came about.
Several weeks ago, I mentioned in an article that I didn’t know of anyone making a commercial vegetable oil in Whatcom County to use for locavore cooking. (A locavore is a person who eats only locally grown food as much as possible.)
Soon afterward I received a phone message from Holmquist Hazelnut Orchards letting me know they make an oil from their hazelnuts. I had known that, but had heard hazelnut oil was not suitable for cooking because it had a low smoke point and so would burn easily. However, I realized wasn’t sure where I’d gotten that idea, so made a note to do more research when I had time.
Next time I visited the Bellingham Farmers Market, I saw the Holmquist booth and stopped to look at their bottles of hazelnut oil. I asked about the smoke point, and was told it actually has a fairly high smoke point. The oil was expensive enough that I didn’t purchase any at that time, but I started thinking about how it might be used to advantage in recipes.
When I got home, I started reading up. I learned that hazelnut oil is very similar to extra virgin olive oil in terms of both fat quality, calories, and nutrition. Even the smoke point of the two oils is nearly identical. Hazelnut oil is a very rich source of vitamin E, B vitamins, and omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids, associated with helping to reduce cancer risk. It contains very little saturated fat, and has a lot of oleic acid, which has been found to help reduce high cholesterol levels. Hazelnut oil is also very good for the skin, and is often used as in massage oil blends. In short, it’s a very healthy oil.
For cooking, hazelnut oil has a fairly strong, slightly sweet flavor. However, much of the flavor breaks down when the oil is heated. If you just want an oil to keep things from sticking to the pan, it will work just fine. If you want make use of the nutty flavor, though, it’s best to use it as a “finishing” oil, added to hot ingredients just before serving. For example, several food writers recommended drizzling a little hazelnut oil over roasted cauliflower, saying the combination was a flavor extravaganza.
With strong flavored ingredients, there are two approaches to using it in recipes. First, a small amount of strong flavor can add brightness to foods with relatively bland flavors. Secondly, an ingredient with hearty flavor can be combined with other rich flavors to build intensity. This has to be done carefully to make sure the flavors complement each other.
Using the first approach, hazelnut oil can be used to drizzle over a baked potato, or used in much the same way you’d use a pat of butter on top of steamed vegetables. Since ripe, farm fresh ingredients are very flavorful to begin with, adding just of touch of something with a very strong flavor is often all that’s needed to make the taste memorable.
A couple of weeks later, I headed out for the Farmers Market with hazelnut oil on my shopping list. I still hadn’t decided exactly how to use it, but I had some ideas. I knew it was often used in salad dressings, and thought it might be good for sauteing fresh vegetables in a stir fry. I figured I’d experiment when I got it home.
When I reached the Farmers Market I began browsing through the farm booths. Terra Verde Garden is one of my favorites, since the food Amy and Skuter Fontaine produce is always high quality and certified organic. I was happy to see garlic scapes were now in season. I’d recently posted my archive of recipe photos (taken by my daughter Joan) to Pinterest.com, and the Garlic Scapes Omelet had turned out to be wildly popular. (Pinterest.com allows people to make collections of photos they find online, linked to their original sources, according to their personal interests.)
As I was deciding what to purchase, Amy saw me looking at the scapes, and mentioned her friend Rio Thomas had found a wonderful recipe for a garlic scapes pesto. That was it! I could try using hazelnut oil as the base for pesto sauce! If it worked, it would be a great example of combining several very strong flavors into something intense and wonderful.
Note: Many of the Farmers Market vendors have printed copies of their favorite recipes available using some of their less familiar produce items Just ask, and they’ll be happy to give them to you.
I was excited to start working with the flavors. I revised the original recipe to use all local ingredients and balance the tastes. The result? Well, let’s just say in our household it produced the reaction all cooks love to see. You know the one. You put food on your tongue, and suddenly stop whatever else you were doing. Your eyes close, your whole body relaxes, and you let out an involuntary sigh, “Wow…”
See the resulting recipe by following this link: