Monday, March 16, 2015

All about Almonds [and Pesto]: a Superfood to get Nuts over

My earliest memories of enjoying nuts were at Christmastime. It was a tradition in my house to buy various types, still in the shells, to open with a nutcracker and make an absolute mess. I had a system: go for the walnuts, followed by pecans, then almonds, and maybe, if I was desperate, the Brazilian nuts and the hazelnuts.

I wasn’t really a nuts person unless it was peanut butter, and peanuts aren’t even nuts.

Over the years, my tastebuds shifted and their preferences expanded. Although peanut butter remains to be my favorite spread (I know, I know… what stereotypical U.S. American thing to say), I came to appreciate other nut varieties in buttered form, particularly almonds.

I’ve used almond meal and flour without much thought, because being a gluten free cook desensitizes you to what others may view as weird. Gluten free flours have different properties that make them excel in certain recipes over another. Almond flour, I find, works wonders in any baked good with a delicate crumb, such as piecrust, shortbread cookies, or biscuits.

Almonds seem like an international food. You see it in what people refer to as national dishes, and have been traditionally made from/with almonds since the recipe was made.

Recently, I had the exciting opportunity to collaborate with, an amazing family-owned company that sells, you guessed it, nuts. But they don’t just stop there. They sell practically anything you could want, including a huge variety of gluten free baking necessities, snacks, coffee and tea, and more. Their prices are more than reasonable, and most of the time I could expect shipping to be next day or within the same week. Their packaging is fun and quirky, and they always send a small sample package of something different with each purchase.

The company has been around since 1929, and their level of food quality and customer satisfaction had impressed me from the time I discovered their site. So when I was given the ability to talk about the amazing almond, a super hero for many diets, how could I not?

The shift of dietary perspectives has brought about the demand for quality, non-processed and unindustrialized food for many. More and more people are choosing wholefoods over junk. The terms ‘gluten free’ and ‘paleo’ are seen and understood almost everywhere, and so the usage of almond flour in baking isn’t as rare as it used to be.

High in fat and in protein, this wonderful superfood helps balance blood sugar, something I personally struggle with. It can be enjoyed in a number of ways, and it is perfect as a handful to jumpstart your metabolism, additional protein to any meal, and a fantastic indulgence. If you are wanting to increase your intake of this fabulous all around health nut, here are a few recipes I’ve made in the past that you could try:

Homemade Almond Butter
Late Night Chocolate Muffins
Paleo Pumpin Birthday "Cheese"cake
Primal Birthday Brownies
Mashed Potato Biscuit Hearts

When I first received the task, I asked friends and family and fans of Meals with Morri alike what I could make with almonds. Many voted for almond cookies or stir-fry, two fantastic ideas. However, being in Italy, CK and I decided on incorporating almonds in pesto.

Pesto is traditionally made with pine nuts, but I tend to avoid them for two reasons: one, I’m not really a fan of them; and two, they are goitrogenic unless cooked, and I tend to avoid foods that could potentially inhibit my thyroid’s health performance. But the beauty of pesto is that it is a labor of love. The process of making it using a mortar and pestle really shown through upon tasting it, and using almonds (or any sort of nut, really, like pistachios or walnuts) didn’t take anything away from the final product.

It was pesto, stupendous pesto, one that we raved over and wanted to make more of. The ingredients were healthful, and the usage of almonds just made it all the more delicious. So the next time you have an abundance of almonds, have a weekend that celebrates them in a variety of dishes, from coffee cake with streusel topping to stir fried sliced almonds with green beans.

Almond Pesto

2 Garlic cloves
40 g Fresh basil leaves
30 g Raw almonds, finely chopped**
40 g Pecorino Sardo
40 ml Olive oil
Sea salt, to taste

You have two options for making pesto. The easiest would be to simply put everything into the food processor, but it takes away a lot of the fun and, in CK’s and my humble opinion, the flavor. The way we did it, and the way I’m going to talk about, is using the mortar and pestle. The larger, the better. (Ours is on the medium-small side. We were able to do the entire recipe, but it required one person to mix and the other person to spoon back in the escaping pesto along the sides.)

Put the garlic clove pieces into the mortar and churn the pestle in strong, even strokes until it becomes a paste.
In small batches, add the basil, and break down the leaves to a creamy consistency (the pieces will not be regular, but the texture is significantly more smooth than if you would make pesto with a processor).
Follow with the crushed almonds (we used the food processor for this).
Incorporate the cheese until the color is constant and the texture is smooth, then add the olive oil.
Add the sea salt.

Serve immediately on, well, anything really, or refrigerate in a tightly lidded jar. While it may lose its bright green color the longer it sits, its flavor only intensifies. But considering how good it is, I doubt it will last very long in the house anyway.

Buon appetito!

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