nutssmallNuts have been a widely-used source of protein for thousands of years. The Romans and Egyptians made wide use of nuts in many dishes. Did you know that in 1995, archaeologists, having unearthed a Mesolithic pit on the Hebridean island of Colonsay, found traces of hundreds of thousands of burnt hazelnut shells? Obviously this is no newfound fascination!

Of course, if you have any kind of nut allergies, this won’t work in your kitchen. But, for those who can enjoy them, there are a variety of applications for this alternate protein source. Nuts can be dried and ground into flour. They can be chopped and added to virtually anything requiring a punch of crunch, as well as an earthy dose of protein. They can be sprinkled on top of a salad or eaten out of your hand. They can be spiced and/or seasoned however you like and served as a carnival-type treat. Many sauces are intrinsically enmeshed with nuts. Take a simple basil pesto, for example. Many non-foodies are not even aware that it gets its body from finely chopped pignolis. And the classical Spanish sauce, Romesco, wouldn’t be the same without the hazelnuts it is made with.

Nuts pack a potent punch of protein, but at a pretty hefty price. That price is often the amount of fat they contain. Not that their individual oils are not useful unto themselves! Walnut oil is widely used in French cuisine. Peanut oil is known for its exceptionally high smoking-point, making it highly favored for frying. It also is considered to be one of the more neutral oils in that it imparts very little flavor, as opposed to the walnut oil mentioned earlier.

As we head towards the holidays, we start to think about walnuts and pecans and what we can bake with them. Europeans bake with nuts year-round, but here in the States (unless you’re lucky enough to be from the South), we generally tend to think of nuts as an autumnal delicacy. Chestnut stuffing, Pecan Pie, a Chocolate-Hazelnut Torte—they all conjure up thoughts of the upcoming holiday season!

One last word of caution about nut use. They do not lend themselves to prolonged storage at room temperature. Only order what you need to work with. Nuts will go rancid or stale if left sitting idly about in your storeroom. They can be frozen, but will suffer a minimal amount of flavor loss as a result. That having been said, that’s a much better option than letting them go to waste.

So use your imagination. Be creative. And…GO NUTS!!!