02 November 2010

A Complete Nut

Hazelnuts and pears–a match made in heaven. Photo by Jane Pellicciotto

If you’re a child of the sixties or seventies, you might recall the requisite bowl of nuts on the dining room sideboard. Though I enjoyed excavating the meat out of a walnut’s cavities, I preferred the filberts for their sweet, deep, buttery flavor.

As luck would have it, you can’t go far without bumping into a nut or two since the hazelnut (also known as a filbert) is Oregon’s state nut. Nearly 3.6 million trees in Oregon produce 99 percent of America’s hazelnuts. September and October are harvest months, when hazelnuts fall to the ground and are swept up by a machine off the orchard floor.

And what a nut it is!

Dubbed heart-healthy, hazelnuts reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease because they’re so high in monounsaturated fats—the kind that help reduce bad cholesterol. Hazelnuts are high in calcium, potassium, vitamin B6, and antioxidants that benefit the immune system. They’re one of the richest sources of vitamin E, as well as folate, which contributes to blood vessel health. Because nuts are plant based, they contain no cholesterol. Hazelnuts also have concentrated levels of protein, making them a favorite in diet programs—delivering high-quality calories that also help to reduce appetite.

Unless, of course, you decide to indulge in a jar of Nutella, the chocolaty concoction starring hazelnuts. Or pralines, or the liquor Frangelico or nocciola (hazelnut gelato). The hazelnut is versatile however, making its way comfortably around the dinner table, appearing as a roasted spiced snack, playing the toasted sidekick atop a salad, co-starring with parsnips and bacon in a gratin or crowning salmon as a hazelnut crust. If that isn’t enough, hazelnut shells are popular in landscaping because they take a long time to decompose.

But let’s face it. Most people want hazelnuts to appear at the end of a meal, perhaps slathered in chocolate. This is Oregon though, and the hazelnut can find no better companion than our state fruit—the pear—united in bliss in a Pear and Hazelnut Frangipane Tart (recipe below). This tart is impressive looking but easy to make, and the hazelnut flavor sings through.

You’ll find plenty of pears at the farmers market. (See last year’s September newsletter about pears and a recent blog post Pear Season.) For hazelnuts, try La Mancha Ranch & Orchard, Kaleng Produce and Freddy Guys. You can buy hazelnuts raw or roasted. To roast your own, spread the nuts on a cookie sheet and toast at 275° for 20–30 minutes, being careful not to burn them. Then wrap the nuts in a dish towel and rub to remove skins.


Pear & Hazelnut Frangipane Tart

Gourmet, November 2001,

Makes 10 servings

Note: while the tart dough is chilling and baking, you can prepare the frangipane filling, and peel and slice the pears. Make sure pears are almost ripe, not too firm. Pears can also be sliced more thinly than recipe calls for.

Tart filling ingredients
1 cup roasted hazelnuts
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 firm-ripe Bosc or Anjou pears
1/4 cup apricot preserves, heated and strained (to be brushed onto cooked tart)


Pulse hazelnuts with 1/4 cup sugar in a food processor until finely ground, then add flour and pulse to combine.

Beat together butter and remaining 1/4 cup sugar with an electric mixer at moderately high speed until pale and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in extracts. Reduce speed to low and mix in nut mixture until just combined.

Spread frangipane filling evenly in tart shell (recipe below). Peel, halve, and core pears, then cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices, holding slices together to keep pear shape intact. Arrange pears decoratively on filling, fanning slices slightly. Bake at 350°F until pears are golden and frangipane is puffed and golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Brush pears (not filling) with preserves and cool tart completely in pan on rack, then remove side of pan.


Tart shell
Gourmet, November 2001, via epicurious.com

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup cold vegetable shortening
3 to 5 tablespoons ice water

Special equipment: a pastry or bench scraper; an 11- by 1-inch fluted round tart pan with a removable bottom; pie weights or raw rice


Blend together flour, sugar, salt, butter, and shortening with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) just until most of mixture resembles coarse meal with small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Drizzle evenly with 3 tablespoons ice water and gently stir with a fork (or pulse in food processor) until incorporated.

Squeeze a small handful: If it doesn’t hold together, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring (or pulsing) until just incorporated, then test again. (If you overwork mixture, pastry will be tough.)

Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 6 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion. Gather dough together with scraper and press into a ball, then flatten into a 6-inch disk. Chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 1 hour.

Roll out dough with a floured rolling pin into a 13-inch round on a lightly floured surface and fit into tart pan. Trim excess dough, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang, then fold overhang inward and press against side of pan to reinforce edge. Lightly prick bottom and sides with a fork. Chill 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Line tart shell with foil or parchment paper and fill with pie weights. Bake in middle of oven until pastry is pale golden along rim, 20 minutes. Carefully remove foil and weights and bake until pale golden all over, 10 minutes more. Cool in pan on a rack.

Proceed to assembling and baking tart.