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Hazelnuts are made for fall’s full flavors

Hazelnuts add texture flavor waffles which can be made ahead kept warm or even frozen then re-heated. | Scott Keeler~SHNS

Hazelnuts add texture and flavor to waffles, which can be made ahead and kept warm or even frozen, then re-heated. | Scott Keeler~SHNS

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Updated: January 1, 2012 8:06AM

One of the foods that most embodies the season for me is the hazelnut. Think of any typical autumn food — squashes, apples, pears, for example — and the hazelnut is its boon companion.

When roasted (and they should be roasted), they acquire a rich earthiness that pairs perfectly with bold flavors such as strong cheeses and assertive wines. They lack the slight bitterness of walnuts and have more depth than pecans.

Yet hazelnuts, also called filberts, have never enjoyed the popularity of pecans and walnuts, or almonds and peanuts. (Botany note: Those last four aren’t technically nuts, but when you’re cooking, why split hairs?) For some reason, hazelnuts have never had a large commercial advocate, no Planters juggernaut in the chips-and-pretzel aisle for them. Find hazelnuts — maybe — in the bulk-food-bin area.

Most of the world’s hazelnuts are grown in Turkey. In many people’s minds, though, they’re associated with Italy, where they are an important crop for the Piedmont region in the country’s northwest.

Most famous use? Nutella, of course, that beloved chocolate-hazelnut spread.

Here in the United States, hazelnuts are a Pacific Northwest crop. Most of the hazelnuts available locally from that region come from a consortium of growers. To roast your own, put raw hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast at 325 degrees for 7 to 10 minutes, checking several times so they don’t burn. They should give off a lovely aroma. Remove, allow to cool slightly, place between dish towels and rub them until most of the skin is gone.

You’ll notice that I don’t include a recipe for a homemade Nutella-like spread. I tried and came up with some good chocolate-hazelnut concoctions, but have concluded that Nutella is Nutella and if I want some, I’ll buy it. I did not lack for other delicious uses for my hazelnuts that I hope will be launching pads for your own creative cooking with these little gems.

Scripps Howard News Service

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