The two most common major species of walnuts are the English Walnut and the Black Walnut. The English Walnut originated in Persia and the Black Walnut is native to eastern North America. The Black Walnut is full of flavor, but due to its hard shell and poor hulling characteristics, it is not grown commercially for nut production. The commercially produced walnut varieties are nearly all hybrids of the English Walnut. The United States is the world’s largest exporter of walnuts. The Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys of California produce 99 percent of the nation’s commercial English Walnuts.
The walnut harvest season in California typically runs from late August through late November. Once the outer green hull of the walnut begins to dry and split, the nuts are ready for harvest. Thanks to their sturdy shells and leathery outer husk, walnuts are exceptionally well-protected from pests and rot. If stored and handled properly, they can be consumed up to one year after harvest.
The orchard floor is swept for debris and then a mechanical shaker is employed to vigorously shake each tree trunk, knocking the ripe walnuts off their branches and onto the cleared orchard floor. A separate machine is used to sweep the walnuts into neat rows so that mechanical harvesters can pick them up off the ground efficiently.
When consumed fresh from the tree, walnuts have a softer texture and a creamy, slightly bitter flavor. At this stage, they typically have a 20 to 25 percent moisture level. After the walnuts are cleaned and the leathery outer husk is removed, one of the first processing steps these walnuts will undergo is mechanical drying. Even those walnuts sold in the shell will be dried to achieve an 8-percent moisture level, which results in a taste familiar to consumers’ palates and also protects the nuts from rot.
While a little less than half of exported walnuts are sold in the shell, only about 5 percent remain in the shell stateside. The other 95 percent are cracked to order, as storing the nuts in their shells extends their shelf life.
After being initially screened for any debris, the nuts are air-separated from the cracked shells and sorted into a variety of sizes and colors. Generally speaking, lighter-colored intact halves sell at a premium price, while smaller darker pieces are sold at a lower price.
Workers inspect the processed nuts to ensure that they are clean, properly dried and of the correct size and color for the particular order at hand. After this step, the nuts are packaged and shipped. Additionally, a small sample is removed from each batch and sent for laboratory tests to ensure that they meet all food safety regulations set forth by the California Walnut Board, the USDA and the FDA.
When shopping, look for unblemished, clean-looking, creamy colored walnuts. If you are buying shelled walnuts, choose walnut halves for eating and decoration and broken nuts for garnishing or baking. Bags should have little or no “dust” which occurs with handling. To avoid rancidity, refrigerate or freeze shelled walnuts in an airtight container and store nuts in the shell in a cool dark cupboard up to six months or refrigerate.
One quarter cup of walnuts provides 90 percent of omega 3s known to benefit heart health and cognitive function. Walnuts also contain ellagic acid which supports the immune system and may fight cancer. Just 4 walnuts a day can be beneficial.
Walnuts are good in pasta, cereal, cooked vegetables, fruit or green salads or baked goods. They can be pureed into a walnut butter.
For the caramelized onions
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
- Salt and pepper
For the walnut spread
- One 3-inch chunk of carrot
- One 3-inch chunk of celery
- 1 shallot, peeled and cut in half
- 1 large bay leaf
- 2 ½ cups milk
- Salt and pepper
- 2 ½ cups (8 ounces) toasted walnuts
For the crostini and serving
- Half a sourdough baguette, cut diagonally into slices about ¼-inch thick (for 24 – 30 slices)
- 1/4 olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 ½ cups, lightly packed, small (baby) arugula leaves (about 1 ounce)
- Salt and pepper
To prepare the caramelized onions:
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the olive oil and onion, season lightly with salt and pepper and stir to combine.
Cook for 20 – 30 minutes, stirring frequently— until the onions are lightly brown. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
To prepare the walnut spread:
Wrap the carrot, celery, shallot and bay leaf in a double thickness of cheesecloth and tie the bundle securely with twine. Place in a medium saucepan, pour in the milk and season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the walnuts, reduce the heat, and poach in the simmering milk for 20 minutes, stirring once or twice.
Strain the mixture, reserving the milk and walnuts separately. Discard the cheesecloth bundle. While the walnuts are still warm, put them in a food processor. Add 1/3 cup of the reserved milk and puree. Add additional milk by tablespoons, until the mixture is smooth and spreadable. Season to taste with salt and pepper, transfer to a bowl and set aside. Any remaining milk may be used in a soup or sauce.
To prepare the crostini:
Brush the baguette slices lightly with olive oil, put them in a single layer on a baking sheet, and place in a preheated 350ºF oven for about 5 minutes, to dry and crisp the bread. Remove from the oven and gently rub each slice with garlic.
Spread about 1 tablespoon of the walnut mixture on each crostini.
In a small bowl toss the arugula with 1 tablespoon olive oil, then season lightly with salt and pepper. Place a few leaves of arugula over each crostini and top with about 1/2 teaspoon of caramelized onions.
Pasta with Broccoli and Walnut Pesto
- 8 ounces tri-color fusilli or any short pasta
- 1/2 cup walnuts
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- Kosher salt
- 1 lemon
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
- 1 1/4 cups frozen broccoli florets, thawed
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- Garnish with herbs of choice
Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
Spread the walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast until fragrant, 5 to 6 minutes; transfer to a food processor and let cool.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, season with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until tender, 6 to 8 minutes.
While the onions are cooking, use a vegetable peeler to remove 3 strips of zest from the lemon. Thinly slice the zest; add it to the food processor with the walnuts along with the garlic and pulse until finely chopped. Add the Parmesan, 1/4 cup broccoli florets, 2 tablespoons oil and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper and purée until smooth
Add the wine to the onions and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the remaining 1 cup broccoli florets and cook, tossing, until heated through.
Cook the pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water, drain the pasta, and return it to the pot. Add the walnut pesto and the reserved pasta cooking water and mix. Add the onion mixture and toss to combine. Serve with a squeeze of lemon juice, additional Parmesan and herbs.
Bulgur Stuffed Peppers
- 4 medium (6-ounce) red bell peppers
- 3 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for brushing peppers
- 1 cup uncooked bulgur
- 3/4 cup boiling water
- 1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
- 1/4 cup finely minced chives or scallions
- 1 tablespoons minced fresh dill
- 3 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
- 1/2 cup (packed) crumbled feta cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
- 3/4 cup finely chopped dried apricots
Place a medium-small skillet (one that has a tight-fitting lid) over medium heat and wait about 1 minute. Pour in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the uncooked bulgur and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Keep stirring during this process to be sure it doesn’t burn. Pour in the water, place the lid on the pan, and turn off the heat. Let stand 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, fluff with a fork as you add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the lemon juice. Stir in the chives, dill, parsley and feta and then add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the walnuts and apricots.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly oil a baking dish large enough to fit the peppers.
Slice the top off each pepper; reserve the top. Reach inside the peppers with a spoon to scrape out the pith and seeds.
Spoon a 1/2 cup of stuffing into each pepper. Place the tops back on the peppers.
Brush the outside surface of each pepper with a little additional olive oil and place them standing upright in the prepared dish.
Bake for 35 minutes in the center of the oven. Let sit for at least 5 minutes; serve hot or warm.
Fish Fillets with Walnut Brown Butter Sauce
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil or any herb of choice
- 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
- Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 (6-oz each) boneless white fish fillets (cod, bass, tilapia, halibut, sole, grouper, etc)
Place the butter in a small saucepan and melt over medium heat. Cook for 5-10 minutes, until the butter begins to take on a light-brown color and gets a nutty aroma. Add the walnuts and cook for one minute. Pour in the lemon juice, turn up to high heat, and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, and add the basil, salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste; reserve.
Season the fish filets with salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste. Sauté the fish in the olive oil over medium-high heat until done. Serve hot with the butter sauce spooned over.
Beef Sliders Stuffed with Walnuts and Gorgonzola
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 4 slices bacon, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
- 2 cups finely chopped button mushrooms
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 lb lean ground beef
- 4 oz Gorgonzola (or blue cheese), divided into 16 portions
- 32 walnut halves
- 16 small dinner rolls (or 2, 24-inch baguettes, sliced into 8 equal portions, then sliced horizontally)
Heat oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat and sauté bacon until just cooked but not crisp.
Add shallots and cook until translucent. Add mushrooms and continue cooking until water evaporates, about 5 minutes.
Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl and let cool. Add salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and egg to mixture.
Add beef and gently mix by hand until all ingredients are incorporated, without overmixing.
Divide mixture into 16 equal portions. Form into thick patties, about 1-1/2 inches thick and 2-1/2 inches in diameter, tuck a piece of cheese and 2 walnut halves into the center of each patty.
Grill patties on medium-high heat until cooked to preferred doneness. Serve in small dinner rolls or between baguette slices with desired condiments. (Especially good with sauteed onions as a topper.)
Chocolate Walnut Gelato
- 3 cups water
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup Dutch processed, unsweetened cocoa powder
- 3 ounce bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon Kahlua
- 1 cup very finely chopped walnuts, toasted
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring water, sugar and cocoa powder to a boil, whisking constantly.
Reduce heat and simmer until sugar is completely dissolved and cocoa is well blended, about 1 minute.
Remove from heat and stir in bittersweet chocolate until melted. Let cool completely.
Stir in Kahlua and walnuts. Cover and refrigerate until completely cold, about 4 hours.
Without an ice cream maker:
Spoon chilled chocolate mixture into a shallow metal pan; freeze until almost firm, about 3 hours.
Break into chunks; purée in a food processor. Pack into an airtight container and freeze until firm, about 1 hour.
With an ice cream maker: transfer chilled mixture to ice cream maker and prepare according to manufacturer’s instructions.
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