Lurking in the Cupboard #3: Nutcracker (the utensil, not the ballet)December 11, 2012
“I used to be able to name every nut that there was…”
Ah, yes, the deadpan boast from actor/director Christopher Guest in the mockumentary Best in Show* came to mind when looking for our nutcracker.
It’s that time of year when nuts in shells are available – a nice change from those annoying gusseted packets mostly containing small rancid crumbs.
With a nutcracker required for the Northern Italian sweets and cakes on our Christmas menu, third drawer down in mother’s kitchen cabinets is usually a good bet. It belonged to my great-grandfather in Italy and crushes walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts. Flip it over and it takes care of the smaller almonds. Brilliant. And it’s not the plier shaped type used for cracking lobsters and crabs. Let’s keep the traces of nuts away from shellfish in case of allergies.
So many good linguistic expressions too:
. Drives me nuts
. Nuts to you
. I’m nuts about you
. You’re a hard nut to crack
. I’m a history nut
. In a nutshell
My mother often tells the childhood story of climbing her grandmother’s huge backyard walnut tree with her cousins, dropping heavy nuts onto the table below where old folks had gathered for a serious game of dominoes. Splat!
Walnuts are my favourites – as they were with the early Romans, who considered them food for Gods. What else can boast being a health food, growing on a tree with prized wood and is a magician’s prop in the ‘Three Shell and Pea’ game?
Having assorted nuts at the Christmas dinner table is great for conversations when passing round the nutcracker. If you don’t have a nutcracker, use a hammer. Or with macadamias, get a cockatoo to attack the hard shell. On second thought, a parrot hopping around the dinner table is not terribly elegant.
One of my favourite pasta sauces is made from walnuts and originated in the Liguria region of north-western Italy – the home of pesto. Here’s Nigella’s recipe for the walnut sauce Salsa di Noci.
One of my unfavourite things however is pickled walnuts. The English love them, but has anyone else tasted those squishy black blobs floating in brine? If you must tamper with green walnuts, make a liqueur like Nocino and drizzle it on gelato.
*And the last word on nuts – from this scene in Best in Show (2000)