As a kid, I never liked nuts in my brownies. And I was never really tempted to eat those big hulking Brazil nuts that lurked in my grandmother’s candy dish. Even today, you won’t catch me snacking on raw nuts very often. But I use a surprising amount of toasted nuts in my savory cooking, especially with vegetables. I add them to crumb toppings for gratins; I stir them into grain dishes (brown rice with toasted pecans, farro with toasted hazelnuts, wheat berries with toasted walnuts), and I use them to garnish roasted veggies, sautés and soups. I especially like to toss them in green salads (almost every night), so for convenience I keep a few little containers of different toasted nuts in my fridge at all times.
It’s not surprising, considering my obsession with everything caramelized, that I prefer the flavor of toasted nuts. Once browned, nuts get a deeper, earthier, sweeter, and, well, nuttier, flavor. And toasting improves their texture, too. While some raw nuts can be a bit pasty, toasted nuts are crisp and snappy.
While I say these nuts are “toasted,” it would be more accurate to call them oven-roasted. You can toast nuts on the stovetop in a sauté pan, but it requires close attention and careful stirring—and your nuts will still not be evenly toasted. So I prefer the oven method below:
To toast nuts: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Leave nuts unchopped if you like, but I like to coarsely chop before toasting. (Don’t pulverize, though, or the nut “dust” will burn in the oven.) Spread the nuts in one loose layer on a heavy rimmed baking sheet and pop in the oven.
Alert your sniffer. That’s right, your nose. When the nuts begin to turn golden, they will start giving off that lovely nutty aroma. (So don’t stray too far from the kitchen.) Once you can smell them, they may still need a couple more minutes to get a really nice caramel color (most nuts will be toasted in 7 to 10 minutes). But keep an eye on them; golden brown is good—dark brown is heading towards bitter. Let the nuts cool on the baking sheet, then put them in a glass jar or other container to store in the fridge. Or freeze them. Either way, you’ll have a great little flavor/texture booster at the ready.