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?