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Laurie Colwin’s Spiced Walnuts

These snacks are easy to make and easier to eat; they are hot, salty and aromatic. One leads to another, and more and more. They are particularly good with beer before dinner or with cheese and beer afterwards; a good standard for anybody’s repertoire.

Walnut- 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

- 2 teaspoons dried rosemary, pulverized in a spice grinder or bashed with a mortar & pestle

- 1 teaspoon salt

- 1/2 teaspoon, more or less to taste, cayenne

- 2 cups shelled walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350°.

  1. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium low heat.
  2. Add the rosemary, salt and cayenne to the butter and whisk the sauce together until the butter just begins to emulsify; do not worry if it is not particularly foamy. All you need is a good mixture.
  3. Toss the sauce with the walnuts, spread them out on a baking sheet, and roast them for about 10 minutes.
  4. Let the walnuts cool and seal them in a jar. They will keep for a while.


-Do not be tempted to get all seasonal or rigorous and substitute fresh rosemary; it has a greater tendency to scorch than its dried cousin.

Sack of Nuts-A dash of Worcestershire at step 2 does no harm.

-Southern cooks do much the same thing with pecans; you can vary the herbs and seasonings to suit your taste. Crushed dried thyme instead of the rosemary is nice with pecans and, of course, people tend to add a little sugar to them but we find that ingredient unnecessary here.

-Elizabeth David goes uncharacteristically berserk over salted almonds in Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen. Her recipe is verbose and hard to follow, its structure more a love letter than a guide to preparation. Modified for a better result and stripped to basics, however, it is simple. Just toss whole blanched almonds with softened unsalted butter, extra virgin olive oil or, better, almond oil if you can get it. Use about two teaspoons of oil per pound of nuts. Spread them on a cookie sheet and bake them at 210 degrees (not a typo; this is an extremely slow oven) for about 45 minutes or “until the almonds are pale toast colour [a lovely image: Ed.].” (Spices 232) Put the toasty almonds in a bowl and toss with sea, kosher or other coarse salt to taste and serve hot if possible. A dusting of cayenne is optional and recommended. If cooled the almonds are good too, just not as good. David claims that the almonds need to sit in their salt for a few hours before serving; we notice no difference and like the warmth. She also is, characteristically, most particular about her nuts: “The important points about salted almonds are that they must be so dry from the slow toasting in the oven that they squeak as you bite into them; at the same time they must be salty in taste but not to the extent that their own flavour is killed.” (Spices 233) This is going too far; the simple recipe is virtually foolproof and subject to variations of personal preference.

-David quotes the lovely recipe of another cook for a simple walnut sandwich:

“Thick slices of a new household bread--the round, flat pain de ménage; all the better when a little wood ash from the oven bottom still clung to the underside, were spread thickly with cream butter and studded with halves of fresh walnuts, peeled of their thin bitter skin and sprinkled with freshly ground crystal salt. Enough to make a gourmet out of any child.” (Spices 231, quoting Eileen Culshaw, The Taste of Madeleines (1963))

‘Cream’ of course refers to ‘unsalted’ butter; any good bread will do; but good luck trying to peel walnuts.