Hazelnuts, sisterhood & serendipity

September 3, 2012

I love how the best meals so often come about through serendipity. Last night’s was like that for us, prompted by a gift from my friend Tigs last week (delivered along with a fresh batch of Alice Thomas Ellis books, woohoo!) – a little bag of these rather beautiful hazelnuts from the Blue Mountains.

My first thought was to serve the chopped hazelnuts with green beans, but then I decided to try something new, so turned to my trusty Eat Your Books account to search further afield. I can’t recall if I’ve raved here before about EYB, though I certainly have elsewhere. In fact, here’s what I wrote about them for Good Weekend magazine earlier this year.

Have too many cookbooks, yet still find you’re always Googling recipes? Eatyourbooks.com is a search engine for the cookbooks you already own. Register, then simply type in the book titles to create your database. Then enter ‘cherries’, for example, and up pops an index of every recipe using cherries in your collection. Choose one, pull the book from your shelf and cook yourself happy. The site’s index is often far superior to those in your books, and provides a shopping list with each summary. It’s a global site with an impressively vast and growing Australian book list, and even includes options for indexing blogs, obscure books and your own ragged clippings. $25 per year.

I have no affiliation with EYB apart from being a huge fan of this idea and of the very cool women who run it. It was started by sisters Jane Kelly & Fiona Nugent, but has grown heaps. Their customer service, from what I’ve seen, is brilliant and the site is so well designed and constructed I use it all the time. It also now has a mobile version so you can look up stuff from your smartphone while you’re shopping, and it will provide you with a shopping list of ingredients you need for each recipe – ingenious!

One of the best things about it is the quality of the indexing, which means you can often find things here that won’t appear where you expect, if at all, in your cookbooks’ own indexes which are often pretty basic.

Yesterday was a case in point. My search for  ‘hazelnuts’ brought up a zippy-sounding dish from the first (much loved in our house) Ottolenghi book – a red pepper & hazelnut salsa. But when I searched in the book’s index I couldn’t find it, until I looked up the full recipe title handily provided by EYB – ‘Salmon with red pepper & hazelnut salsa’. And then off I went – but without Eat Your Books I doubt I would have come across it at all. And it was good.

We planned to have it with some panfried snapper fillets, and I was toying with another couple of side dish ideas – but then I spied that the opposite page to the salsa recipe held another great Ottolenghi combo: sweet potato with a lime, chilli and coriander dressing. More serendipity, and more divine dinner for us.

Anyway – back to the nuts!

First step was to crack those babies – our bowl of nuts yielded about 50g of hazelnuts. I think I used about 30g in the dish and saved the rest – shelling nuts always makes me appreciate how relatively cheap it is to buy shelled nuts, because with hard nuts like these it’s a bit of a palaver. Once I got into the rhythm of it with our nutcracker – also known as The Big Red Pliers – however, it only took about five minutes. Collecting all the sharp little bits of shell out of the stove fittings, off the floor, the kitchen shelves and so on took a little longer. They were very nice raw, even with the slightly bitter skins on, but toasted in the oven for ten minutes and with most of the skins rubbed away they were really good – crunchier, and with the unique, slightly sweet flavour that hazels have.

Next step was to roast two red capsicums until the skin blackened enough for peeling, and then I cut it into thin strips rather than finely chopped as the recipe says.

A dressing of chives, lemon juice, a single finely chopped garlic clove, olive oil and the surprise star  ingredient of apple cider vinegar  made this a really delicious side dish.

We’re trying to eat more veg so along with the sweet potato we had some blanched green beans and gorgeous balsamic roasted beetroot. I used to always roast the beetroot whole and then remove the skin – but now I just quarter it and roast in pieces, keeping the skin on (hooray, yet another way to avoid boring & annoying peeling!) and then tossing the caramelly chunks in a spoonful of Balsamic vinegar just near the end of cooking.

I have to say, this was one of the best dinners we’ve eaten at home for ages – and all resulting from a friend’s generosity, a couple of gals with a smart idea and a computer – and serendipity.

What about you – made anything good by happy chance lately?





  1. I am so pleased to have found your blog, it is one of the very few I have read that really speak to me. I have been an EYB life member for about a year now and just love it. I did have a go at indexing a book when that became possible (Check out ‘A Passion for Pulses’) but found the complex and exacting standards (completely essential for a truly effective database, of course) a bit beyond my capabilities. I did get there in the end but happy to let others take on that task in future.
    In terms of happy happenstance dishes, I made an after-lunch-impromptu-dessert lemon delicious pudding on Sunday using some absolutely gorgeous lemons gathered from a friend’s tree on a recent weekend at their holiday cabin. Checked several recipes before settling on the good old Australian Women’s Weekly Cookbook (yep, indexed on EYB). The pudding was superb – light and fluffy and the perfect vehicle for those amazing, thin-skinned, juice-dripping lemons.
    Thanks again Charlotte, and keep those posts coming!
    PS. How come your blog isn’t included in the EYB Library? Hmmmm?

  2. You say serendipity and I say synchronicity! I love your above story and Love & Hunger is an absolute favourite. It had many synchronicity moments for me, that continue. Thank you x

  3. Thanks for pointing out EYB – it’s changed my life.

  4. That sounds a great recipe. I too am a devotee of EYB – it’s such a brilliant concept. Thanks for your great site, which I discovered after reading about it in Country Style magazine.

  5. Absolutely love your blog, Charlotte. and for the tip on cooking beets with the skin on, and then tossing in balsamic, well you are worth your weight in vegies, nay oysters!
    I grow beetroots and while I have a few spesh dishes with them, always on the hunt for more and easier ways to enjoy.
    I had a dear friend come recently to my newly renovated ( white) kitchen and enthusiastically grate some raw beets, all the while spraying crimson shards hither, thither and yon, over all the benchtops, walls, splashback etc. It took all my deep breathing training not to scream at the mess! But it was a delicious salad she came up with!
    There must be saying about this akin to breaking a few eggs to make a good omelette?

  6. Oh, what a lovely bunch you are. Deb, your lemon delicious sounds – delicious. I have always been a bit scared of custardy things but you are inspiring me to try … and thrilled that so many of you are on the EYB train. Julie, it is great to have you on board the oyster-shuckin train too. I love a bit of raw beetroot too and the salad sounds nice, but for sheer bone idleness there’s nothing like the two-chops-&-bung-it-in-the-oven approach I favour most of the time …

  7. Nice recipe! Yummo. You could probably do something like that with chestnuts too..

  8. I’ve been wanting to ask Charlotte all week what she did with the hazelnuts, but didn’t like to go on about One’s Gift. Thought I’d nip over to The Oyster in a spare moment and here they are! Sorry about the mess, CWood – I did wonder about the shells. But the results sound fabulous. I bought the hazelnuts at the Blue Mountains Food Co-op http://www.bmfoodcoop.org.au/, a walk up the hill from my house. It’s a perfect place for serendipity – all the fresh fruit and vegetables are organic and in-season only, but my favourite section is the two small shelves devoted to local produce: tiny baskets of lemons or jerusalem artichokes or chervil, walnuts or kale or a branch of bay leaves, with a label attached saying something like, “Grown by Kath, Mt Vic”. That’s where I got the hazelnuts – they were just too beautiful not to be bought, and Charlotte came immediately to mind. I KNEW she’d do them justice!

  9. EYB sounds genius. And yes, I had a win just last night. Simplicity plus and our new comfort meal. I adjusted an emergency meal we ordered for the Touring Toddler in Enna, Sicily, the other day. Nonna Enna, as she shall always be known, brought out a bowl of chicken broth with pasta (so small it looked like rice grains). I’d never seen anything like it before but it was a huge hit with the TT and with us. So last night I made my own version. I used penne and simply added some stirfried garlic and chilli plus a fistful of parmesan. It was just delicious.

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