Monday, June 21, 2010

Hazelnuts: also edible (especially with butter and Brussels sprouts)

The hazelnut is charmingly winter-blooming and pollinating, with fresh fruits harvested in the summer. Like most nuts they store perfectly in nature’s packaging (the shell, silly) and hence can be enjoyed in mid-winter, while the trees trail long blossoms on bear limbs.

And yet. The hazelnut, in literature and cultural tradition, occupies an ambiguous position.

Despite evidence that hazelnuts were cultivated and harvested on a large scale as early as 9000 years ago, the hazelnut features not as tasty treat, but symbolic riddle.

For Hamlet, only bad dreams stood between him and reign over infinite space, as defined by the bounds of a nutshell.* Elsewhere in Shakespeare, Queen Mab rides around in the some empty hazelnut shell, perpetually in motion distributing, one suspects, those same bad dreams.** Julian of Norwich had visions that the whole of the universe is a hazelnut in g-d’s palm***, Grimm’s fairytales suggest they keep us protected from snakes and vipers and all venomous things****, and Druidic legend suggests that a particular hazelnut-fed salmon imparts wisdom to the person who in turn eats the fish.*****

From Druidic folktales to Grimms’ fairtales, the mystic writings of mediaeval Saints to Shakespeare, the hazelnut repeatedly represents a profound metaphysical and moral contradiction.

Over and over, the edible is rendered inedible, and the physically real, metaphysically impossible. How could we think to eat the whole of creation? How can something real, tangible and mundane also be said to be infinite space? How can the whole of the universe be observed from a standpoint outside of the universe? Why fish-enhancing or reptile-repelling?

Why not just eat the damn things? Butter, salt, sprouts, hazelnuts.

No fairy queens, no troubled princes or wizards, no mystic saints or salmons or mothers of g-ds. Just brown butter sauce and toasted hazelnuts and braised Brussels sprouts.

* Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act II. Scene II:
[Hamlet]: O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a
king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.
** Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act I. Scene IV:
[Mercutio]: Her chariot is an empty hazelnut,
*** Julian of Norwich The Showing of Love Chapter V
**** Jacob Ludwig Grimm and Wilhelm Carl Grimm The Hazel Branch
***** The bradán feasa

Braised Brussels sprouts with brown butter and toasted hazelnuts

Serves 4, as a side

100g hazelnuts
400g Brussels sprouts
60g butter
½ cup water
Sea salt

Toast the hazelnuts in large pan (or roast in a moderate oven) until golden. Remove from heat and rub with a tea-towel to remove the skins. Set aside.

In a large non-stick pan, stir 20gs butter into the water and bring to a simmer. Add sprouts and a pinch of sea salt. Cover and simmer gently for about 10-15 minutes, adding a little more water if the pan dries out before the sprouts are cooked through.

Remove the Brussels Sprouts and set aside. Add the remaining butter and hazelnuts and cook over a low heat until the butter is brown. Return the sprouts to pan and coat with butter sauce. Serve with roast chicken or grilled salmon.

1 comment:

  1. Oh yum! I am always looking for ways to jazz up my sprouts.