I wanted to make an autumnal salad with hazelnuts and fresh herbs. This, I thought, would be a simple matter. Mais non, mes amis. I made the mistake of starting with hazelnuts still in their peels. Figured it would easy to blanch the nuts and remove the peels. I was wrong. It took me half an hour to rub the peels off just 20 hazelnuts, and the job was imperfect, with stubborn bits clinging on. Then I roasted the nuts, and they burned…
Salade d’herbes aux noisettes / Herbal salad with hazelnuts
Not to be defeated, I tried again the next day, this time with success. The solution was to buy hazelnuts that had already been blanched. I watched closely as they toasted and took them out when they had turned a light golden brown, enjoying the delicious aroma of roasting hazelnuts that wafted through my kitchen.
The rest was, pardon the mixed metaphor, a piece of cake. The leaves of assorted fresh herbs are stripped from their stems — cilantro, basil, parsley, dill, mint, tarragon, chervil, in whatever combination you prefer. The herbs and hazelnuts are scattered over a bed of tender leaves, then sprinkled with salt and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
The result is a salad that is easily made and can go with just about anything. You can serve it as a first course, perhaps with cured ham such as prosciutto alongside. You can embellish it with grapes, bits of dates or pear, crumbled roquefort, goat cheese, etc. Or you can serve it as a side salad with roasted meats, poultry, fish or veggies.
I’ve always enjoyed hazelnuts, but I grew particularly fond of them after discovering a hazelnut bush on the property of my newly acquired country cottage in Burgundy. This was back in 1999. For the next two decades, the local squirrels and I waged a battle royal every year to see who could get the hazelnuts first. Sometimes they won, as I only went down there on weekends, but often enough I was able to collect a small basketful that lasted right through the winter. I never tried to blanch the hazelnuts, however.
Having blanched almonds many times and easily slipped off their peels, I was surprised this week by how hard it was to do the same with hazelnuts. If I hadn’t managed to find some that were already peeled, this recipe (as such) would never have made it onto the website. So — what to do if you cannot find pre-peeled hazelnuts? I’d suggest substituting walnuts. It’s a different flavor, but would be good nonetheless. And just as autumnal!