I woke up this morning with hazelnuts ribboning through my thoughts. Their snappy, clean crunch and sweet nuttiness kept replaying in my mind, nothing more than that, just crunch and savor, over and over. It was like having a song stuck in my head.
I like nuts. But until now, the hazelnut has been evasive. What inspired its new role in my waking daydream was a salad I made, inspired by a winter version I had at a restaurant (Marlowe and Son in Brooklyn) back in the cool weather. The first salad used soft, ripe Anjou pears (which I replaced with sweet local strawberries), honey and some lovely aged cheese—capped with a dash of toasted hazelnuts. It was so simple and so super scrumptious. With the warm-weather version, the sweet perfume of the strawberries was teased out by the honey, sexed up with the salty cheese, and the whole tangle rippling with that rich pop of the hazelnuts. It was so nice.
Why have I stayed away from hazelnuts for so long? It may have something to do with their alias—perhaps I have been uninspired to pine for a nut called filbert. Foods are often renamed with marketing in mind (prunes became dried plums, Patagonian toothfish became Chilean sea bass). And while it wasn’t marketing that led to the dual-moniker filbert/hazelnut, in my house they were called filberts. Although I might find something called a filbert rather charming in a geeky way now, I think that sometimes my poetic association with food names has been inhibiting in the past.
So here I am, smitten with filberts! And gorging on strawberries strewn with them. I think they would make a fine addition to any fruit, really. I know they are glorious with winter fruits, and I’m looking forward to more spring fruits sprinkled with them, and then moving on to summer peaches and apricots—where the rich flavor of the hazelnuts will tame the exuberant sweetness of the fruit, and supply some more food for my daydreams for another season.
Strawberry and Hazelnut Salad
1 pint fresh local strawberries
1/3 cup hazelnuts, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
Shaved aged cheese (I used an aged Gouda, but even a simple aged Parmesan works well)
Honey for drizzling
Rinse and hull berries, place in a bowl, top with hazelnuts, garnish with cheese, drizzle with honey.