Autumn Perfumes : Pasta with Roasted Hazelnuts and Pancetta

Even before I saw the leaves turning golden in the park, I smelled autumn in the air. The sun may have been generous and warm, and the summer visitors still packed the squares in Brussels, but the autumnal perfume was unmistakable–a nutty-musty melange of decaying leaves and wilting flowers. The anticipation of long dark evenings and bitter cold is enough to make anyone dread fall in the northern countries, but as the Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin wrote, “Autumn attracts me like a neglected girl among her sisters.” Of course, then in the course of his poem he goes on to compare the beauty of fall to that of a girl dying from consumption, but that’s the complex Slavic soul for you. For my part, I love fall for its golden light and serenity as well as for its seasonal tastes.pasta-hazelnuts2

A big pile of feathery green leaves and tawny shells at the Friday market last week caught my attention. “Noisettes Fraîches,” said the chalk drawn sign, and it took me a moment to realize that I was looking at green hazelnuts. Pushkin taps into my nostalgia for my childhood days and green hazelnuts are another reminder. I pillaged many a hazelnut shrub in my grandmother’s garden in search of tasty, not quite ripe nuts and have fallen many a time trying to get to the higher branches.

In season from August to October, green hazelnuts still wear their leafy jackets and look pale golden. Left to ripen fully and then dry out, hazelnuts taste sweet and creamy. Toast them, and they start tasting of coffee, caramel and chocolate.  But while the unripe hazelnuts lack this kind of sultry flavor, they are addictive nonetheless. Some people liken them to green peas.  But for me, fresh hazelnuts taste the way vetiver smells–earthy and green. They also have a delicate milky sweetness that lingers on the palate.

If you have a chance to find some unripe hazelnuts–whether by picking them yourself or at a farm store, I recommend eating them right away, because unlike mature nuts, they don’t keep well and they lose their delicate perfume within days. They are also delicious in salads, tossed with a tangy herbal vinaigrette. Sliced in slivers, they make a great accompaniment for autumn fruit salads and compotes. The best way to enjoy them is on their own with a glass of chilled white wine.

Green hazelnuts make a brief seasonal appearance in my kitchen, but the dry variety is what I keep on hand all year round. Like almonds, hazelnuts are versatile, while their flavor is rich enough to be used as a seasoning. Add a few spoonfuls of chopped hazelnuts to sauteed carrots for a caramelized twist. Dust lamb chops with ground hazelnuts and crushed pepper before giving them a quick sear. Substitute them for walnuts in your favorite brownie recipe. Or try one of my simplest and most satisfying desserts: dark chocolate dusted with crunchy salt flakes and a handful of roasted hazelnuts, eaten in alternative bites. Hazelnuts and chocolate form a marriage made in heaven.

pasta-hazelnuts

My other favorite flavor pairing is hazelnut and bacon. Almost everything is improved by some bacon, but the toasty-meaty flavors of these two ingredients meld particularly well. Overly smoky bacon would compete with the toffee scent of hazelnuts, so I usually go for the milder variety or pancetta, Italian-style cured, unsmoked pork belly. If none of these are available, I bring a pot of water to boil and dip bacon strips in it for a couple of minutes to remove excess smokiness. I add tomatoes for a bright, tart accent and lots of herbs to give a heady top note–cooking is very much like perfumery, after all. Tossed with pasta, this sauce tastes like early autumn.

Another selling point for this recipe is that it’s very easy to make. How easy? Consider this: I made it on the eve of our move on a hot plate and we ate it in our empty apartment on top of a box covered with a kitchen towel. Michelyn style dining it sure wasn’t, but this fragrant pasta let us pretend it might have been.

pasta-hazelnuts3

Pasta with Roasted Hazelnuts, Pancetta and Tomatoes

On roasting hazelnuts: preheat oven to 400F and toast hazelnuts for 15 minutes, or until pale golden. Check periodically, as nothing burns faster than nuts. Cool, rub the nuts with a kitchen towel to remove some of the skins. You need not remove everything, just whatever comes off with some light rubbing. Once roasted, hazelnuts should be stored in a dark, cool place.

Serves 4

1 lb (450g) pasta in your favorite shape
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup pancetta cut into small cubes (or bacon dipped into boiling water for 2 minutes)
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups cherry tomatoes cut in halves
2 Tablespoons fresh herbs (such as parsley, basil, thyme and marjoram; parsley + basil is my favorite)
1/2 cup roasted hazelnuts, chopped finely
Salt, pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated parmesan ( Parmigiano-Reggiano) or pecorino cheese for serving (optional)

Bring water to boil in a pot large enough to hold pasta. Add salt. Once the water is boiling, add pasta and stir. Cook as per the instructions on the package.

While pasta  is cooking, heat a large pan over a medium flame. Add olive oil. Once it’s warm, add pancetta and let it sizzle for 2 minutes, or till the fat renders out and the cubes are starting to turn golden. Add garlic and let it color pale gold. Add halved tomatoes and cook till they burst. Add herbs, salt, pepper and mix well.

Cook pasta till it’s al dente and drain. Keep 1/2cup of pasta water to thin the sauce, if needed. Add pasta to the pan with the sauce and toss quickly. If the sauce is too thick, add the reserved pasta water. Add hazelnuts and toss again. Serve with grated  cheese, if you like.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

 

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56 Comments

  • Barbara: I always look forward to your Thursday posts, V! Beautiful photos too. Getting the recipe is a nice bonus. If I ask my family what they want for dinner, they say pasta or pierogi with potatoe and cheese. I will make your recipe for them this weekend. August 30, 2012 at 8:08am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Barbara! My husband is happiest with pasta too. Nothing overly complicated is required. 🙂 August 30, 2012 at 10:29am Reply

  • Ines: Yummy! 🙂
    Although I do believe I would need to exchange hazelnuts for something else as I’m slightly allergic to them. Do you think almonds could work? August 30, 2012 at 9:03am Reply

    • Victoria: Of course! You can use roasted almond (but roast them till they are light gold, otherwise they might be too mild for bacon). Or pinenuts as Anne mentioned. They provide a nice toasty flavor and a pleasant crunch. August 30, 2012 at 10:30am Reply

      • Ines: Roasted fo course.
        Now I’m wondering (I’ll change half the ingredients in your recipe) if it would work with grains instead of pasta – I am not a huge pasta fan. Possibly bulghur or cous-cous… August 30, 2012 at 11:42am Reply

        • Victoria: Ines, you can easily turn it into a bulgur or couscous pilaf. Just start the recipe with pancetta and garlic. Then add your grain of choice and toss it in the fragrant oil. Then add tomatoes, herbs and as much liquid as your grain would require. Cook till done and serve with nuts mixed in.
          Otherwise, just make the sauce and top your grains with it. In the first instance, you will have a pilaf, in the second, more of a composed meal. Either way would be good. August 30, 2012 at 11:46am Reply

          • Ines: Thank you!
            Now I even know what a pilaf is. 🙂 August 31, 2012 at 4:08am Reply

            • Victoria: 🙂 You’re welcome, Ines! Pilaf is usually a rice dish, with rice cooked in oil first. But if you use another type of grain and a similar technique, you can call it pilaf too. August 31, 2012 at 4:53am Reply

              • Barbara: Thank you for explaining. I was always confused what pilaf meant. What about pulao? Is it the same thing? August 31, 2012 at 9:20am Reply

                • Victoria: My pleasure! I love pilafs of all types.
                  Pulao is what pilaf is called in India. But yes, it’s the same thing–the rice is browned lightly with oil and then covered with the liquid (water or broth). August 31, 2012 at 12:22pm Reply

  • Lucas: Another delicious recipe and tasty pictures. Huuungryyyy! August 30, 2012 at 9:13am Reply

    • Victoria: Glad that you’ve enjoyed them, Lucas! As much as I love summer cooking, I’ve been missing richer fall flavors. August 30, 2012 at 10:31am Reply

  • Anne Sheffield: It s 3. 15 pm…. And after reading this i am Absolutely starving! Sounds so good! I used to make s similar dish with roasted pine nuts.
    I laught at your bacon analysis. My husband swear it does make everything taste better too! I make a mean crispy bacon and avocado sandwich……. It s now 3.17 pm…… I am famished…… August 30, 2012 at 9:22am Reply

    • emily00: hello Victoria, the combo of hazelnuts and pancetta must be delicious. i usually use hazelnuts in desserts, and i’m curious to try them with something salty. August 30, 2012 at 10:16am Reply

      • Victoria: I love them so much that I keep finding new ways of using them. Or I just eat them a handful at a time. 🙂 August 30, 2012 at 12:05pm Reply

    • Victoria: Now, I’m hungry reading that description of a crispy bacon and avocado sandwich. That sounds just wonderful!
      Another dish I love with bacon is the frisee lettuce salad with a poached egg. What can be better than bacon and eggs together? 🙂 August 30, 2012 at 10:32am Reply

      • Nikki: Frisee salad, I love it! There is also a recipe with frisee salad, crunchy bacon, and mashed potatoes, it is called Endivien Durcheinander…You prepare a salad dressing (I like the packages by Knorr, Salat or Kuechenkraeuter), but omit the water, only prepare it with oil, then you mix the salad and the mashed potatoes together and top it with crispy bacon or fried boudin noir. August 30, 2012 at 10:43am Reply

        • Victoria: That sounds up my alley, Nikki! Do you know a Dutch dish called Stamppot? I’ve never tried it until I got here, but I was hooked from the first bite. It’s a mix of mashed potatoes and other vegetables (kale, carrots, etc.) So simple and so comforting. August 30, 2012 at 11:51am Reply

          • Austenfan: Glad to see you have discovered the delight that is stamppot. I think in Belgium it is called Stoemp or stoempie.
            I make mine using carrots ( hutspot, a traditional dish to celebrate the liberation of Leiden from the Spanish occupation), kale, sauerkraut and in spring rapini! I tend to add onions and fried bacon with the mash for some extra flavour. August 30, 2012 at 3:28pm Reply

            • Victoria: Comfort food at its best! It seems like it’s one of those traditional dishes that you see in the restaurants dressed up in all sorts of ways. But my favorite is the simplest, and I’m definitely going to make your recipe with rapini, onion and bacon. August 30, 2012 at 4:15pm Reply

              • Austenfan: That one and the one with kale are my favourites. Kale is at its best after the first night frost. It sweetens the kale. August 30, 2012 at 5:10pm Reply

                • Victoria: I really like green leafy vegetables in general, and on most days I’m happy with a big plate of stir-fried greens. I would seriously pick them over fries or something like that. The slight bitter taste is so addictive. August 31, 2012 at 4:12am Reply

                  • nikki: Yes, those are recipes which are all very much alike. Peasant food at its best, delicious, nourishing and fun to eat! There is also Himmel und Erde which is Heaven and Earth made of yellow potatoes and fragrant fall apples like Boskop or Orange apples. Very good indeed! It seems these are dishes from the flat lands in Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, this whole geographical area which was mainly farmland. Austenfan is right, kale is best after the first frost! August 31, 2012 at 10:57am Reply

                    • Victoria: The cooking here is very much influenced by the Dutch cuisine in the north and the French in the south. But there are specifically Belgian dishes too.

                      Got some kale today at the market, and I’m going to make stamppot with it! Thank you both for inspiring me. August 31, 2012 at 12:25pm

  • marsi: Yum! Sounds and looks mouthwatering. In Spain we use hazelnuts in picada and my mom makes a tart with nutella *and* hazelnuts. Can’t have have too many! August 30, 2012 at 9:25am Reply

    • Victoria: That’s a double hazelnut tart! Sounds like something I would love. How does your mom make it? August 30, 2012 at 10:33am Reply

      • marsi: I will email it to you. I tried posting it here but the word count is too big. September 4, 2012 at 5:09pm Reply

  • parisbreakfast: The first I ever heard of fresh hazelnuts.
    They look gorgeous and make a beautiful still life to paint…
    merci carolg August 30, 2012 at 9:56am Reply

    • Victoria: They really are pretty with those green jackets. In Ukraine In Belgium they are sold at the supermarkets and outdoor markets, while in the US, I’ve picked them myself. I admit that I prefer the mature hazelnuts myself, but the green ones brought back some nice childhood memories. August 30, 2012 at 10:42am Reply

  • Jillie: Mmmmmm – tasty. Love the subtle taste of hazlenuts, and they make a change from almonds. The pairing with bacon is inspired, and I know that there are special piggies that are brought up on hazlenuts (and others on acorns) in order to give them a lovely flavour, although this bacon is difficult to find – but we can add it for ourselves! Can’t wait to try your recipe. August 30, 2012 at 10:24am Reply

    • Victoria: Jillie, that’s a fun thought on complementary flavors. 🙂 I suppose that you can also add a handful of hazelnuts to the pork stew. They soften nicely as they cook, so they taste more like a vegetable this way. August 30, 2012 at 12:06pm Reply

  • Elizabeth: I like that Pushkin quote. Even as a little girl, it seemed strange to me that spring and summer were always praised as the “best” seasons, while autumn and winter were maligned and neglected. Aren’t autumn and winter just as beautiful in their own way (if not, dare I say it, more?). I have just bought a bottle of Coromandel for the cooler months ahead.

    Also….mmmmm, hazelnuts! In Germany this summer, I had an ice cream sundae topped with roasted hazelnuts. I still dream about it! August 30, 2012 at 10:31am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m more of a fall lover myself, since I don’t tolerate the summer heat that well. But I just love the slight melancholy spirit in the air, the golden days when you walk through the sea of fallen leaves on the way to work and the anticipation of the first snow. There are downsides to fall, of course, but no time of the year is perfect.

      Roasted hazelnuts, some shaved chocolate, ice cream–that’s a great treat. August 30, 2012 at 12:03pm Reply

  • Nikki: Lovely! Delicious! I can smell the pancetta and hazelnuts all the way over here! I am so much looking forward to fall; fall is my favorite season. There is a perfume one can buy in the French pharmacy, it comes in a silver container and is based on the scent of hazelnuts. When I lived in Piemonte, the hazelnut season was always very special, and I ate lots of nougat and hazelnut gelato or anything made by Ferrero, from Nutella to Baci di Perugia with the whole hazelnut covered in dark chocolate. I remember the scent of garden fires, burning of leaves, and here in the USA, pumpkins everywhere. I just adore fall….will get my fall perfumes out soon: Tuscany by Estee Lauder,Spellbound, Jicky, Shalimar….thank you for reminding me of the beauty of fall! Your little tete a tete in the empty appartment looks wonderful! I still think fondly of the times when my husband and I ate on top of a box in our younger years on a Caribbean island eating mangos with everything. Your quotation is quite interesting, I really have to understand the Slavic soul a bit more. Marlene Dietrich said in her book that she adored the “Slavic Soul” and there was nothing comparable…! By the way, I recently bought Tosca, the 4711/Maeurer Wirtz/Muelhens perfume created in 1922 and it really is stunningly beautiful! Created with aldehydes, similar to Chanel 5, but so much more elegant (well, I am not fond of Chanel 5) and feminine and what a bargain price! I am sure you can find it in the stores around Christmas in gift boxes with the perfumed soap. Highly recommended! August 30, 2012 at 10:40am Reply

    • Victoria: This article made me laugh, and it describes various expressions that have to do with soul in Russian language:
      http://www.friends-partners.org/oldfriends/spbweb/times/163-164/wrd-wrth.html
      My favorite quote is “Etot razgovor mnye ne po dushe (I don’t feel like having this conversation) is a useful expression which can disguise mere petulance as spirituality. The next time your friends suggest another trip out to Izmailovo, you can turn up your nose and say chto-to mnye ne po dushe tuda sevodnya yekhat – literally, for some reason my soul is not up to going there today.”

      Piemonte hazelnuts are known as some of the finest available. Isn’t Piemonte the place where Nutella originated? August 30, 2012 at 11:58am Reply

      • nikki: That’s great! Thank you for the link! Very soulful people! Will say that from now on, sorry my soul doesn’t feel this is the right thing to do….!

        Yes, Piemonte is Nutella land! That region of Italy is my favorite, at the foot of the Alps, therefore pied monte, foot and mountain…such gorgeous country. They have the best hazelnuts! And truffles, red wines like Barolo and Barbaresco, and really good cream and butter. I really liked living there, but you would not believe the fog in fall and winter! Totally opaque and lasting for days! Really dangerous driving, of course, and quite strange, however, that is the reason the wines are so good. August 31, 2012 at 11:15am Reply

        • Victoria: Fascinating! Thank you, Nikki. These stories are like a glimpse in a totally different world for me. I’ve studied in Italy, but I haven’t made it as far as Piemonte. August 31, 2012 at 12:26pm Reply

  • Natasha: Your photo of green hazelnuts reminded me of a movie I watched as a kid in Moscow Three Hazelnuts for Cinderella. Do you remember it maybe? She had three little nuts on a branch that looked exactly like the ones in your photo and she would crack one when she wanted a wish to come true. August 30, 2012 at 10:41am Reply

    • Victoria: Natasha, funny you should mention this movie (I think that the English title was Three Wishes for Cinderella). It was Czech, if I’m not mistaken. It was one of my favorite films when I was little, and of course, I remember her little branch of hazelnuts. The funny thing about that movie is that the prince really has to pursue Cinderella, and she has a penchant for wearing men’s clothing. Wow, what a blast from the past! August 30, 2012 at 11:54am Reply

      • Natasha: LOL! I don’t remember it that well except for the magic nuts. August 30, 2012 at 1:21pm Reply

      • nikki: I loved the Czech movies, do you remember Pan Tau? August 31, 2012 at 11:16am Reply

        • Victoria: I’m not familiar with it, no, but I just googled it and it seems like a fun TV series. August 31, 2012 at 12:33pm Reply

      • Elin: Natasha and Victoria, that film is a Norwegian tradition for Christmas tv! It’s one of the longest running ever, getting sent each Christmas since I was a small child. My sister doesn’t feel like its Christmas unless she sees it.
        And having big bowls of hazelnuts is also a Christmas tradition, my dad used to make big piles of their shells in no time. I will have to try your hazelnut pasta, sounds delicious! Nocciola, Italian hazelnut icecream will always remind me of my first infatuation with Rome and Italy. September 4, 2012 at 5:41am Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you both for reminding me about it, because I haven’t seen this movie in ages and when Natasha mentioned it last week, I ended up watching a trailer on youtube. It reminded me how much I loved it and also how good this film is. I love that Cinderella doesn’t need the prince, that for a chance, he is the one who has to impress the girl. Beats the usual “knight in the shining armor” tales that young girls are fed so much. September 4, 2012 at 5:52am Reply

  • fleurdelys: Oh no, not another wonderfully delicious-sounding recipe! How will I ever find the time to make them all?? 😉 I’ll just have to add it to the list of must-try recipes I’ve found on your blog. Interesting how well nuts work with pasta, and how quick and easy the dishes are to make: I’ve made pasta topped with a mixture of olive oil, garlic, anchovies, and toasted walnuts. Ready in no time, and tasty! August 30, 2012 at 11:56am Reply

    • Victoria: I hope that you will enjoy it! It really is very simple.

      I love your idea of pasta topped with anchovies and walnuts. Now, that’s a great flavor combination. I remember reading Mark Bittman’s column in NYT, and he mentioned topping roasted beets with anchovies and walnuts. It was an inspired pairing. August 30, 2012 at 12:11pm Reply

  • iodine: Beautiful post- I’m an autumn lover, too- and interesting recipe! May I suggest you another fabulous combination? Try a porcini (even dried ones) and hazelnut risotto, with a bit of coriander seeds and laurel in the soffritto… Quintessential autumn! August 30, 2012 at 12:31pm Reply

    • Natasha: That sounds like a great variation! i usually make risotto with porcini, but I haven’t added laurel and coriander to mine. Can just imagine how good it would taste with those spices. August 30, 2012 at 1:17pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you! Your risotto is now on my list of recipes to try. The combination of citrusy coriander seeds and bay leaves with hazelnuts and mushrooms must be just irresistible. 🙂 August 30, 2012 at 2:13pm Reply

  • sammysmom: Hailing from Oregon, I’m lucky enough to buy great hazelnuts at the farmers’ market. I made hazelnut cookies for my kids and have been hoarding the remaining nuts in my freezer. I think it’s time to put them to good use. Thanks for the inspiration! August 30, 2012 at 4:36pm Reply

    • Victoria: Lucky you! Oregon hazelnuts are supposed to be some of the best. They also look longer and larger than the European and Turkish variety and taste so sweet.
      Hope that you will like this recipe. August 31, 2012 at 4:09am Reply

  • Judith: What a delightful post Victoria ! Autumn has always been my favourite season…The light, the smell, the produce…I welcome its melancholique sensation it after the torrid summer days (not that Brussels have many torrid days ). LOVE hazelnuts and chocolates ( hello Nutella ) ! I love to add cushed hazelnuts, grated parmigiano , and a handfull of mixed herbs into breadcrumbs and use it to coat chicken, veal, and fish fillets. My absolute favourite fish to use for this is sole but other white fishes would work as well. How would you eat those fresh hazelnuts ? I like fresh almonds but have never tried fresh hazelnuts. Take care Victoria ! Btwm we should be in Brussels by October 🙂 September 1, 2012 at 12:58pm Reply

    • Victoria: Hello Judith! Thank you! I bought some shad fillets today, so I will use your hazelnut crust suggestion to make them. We finally have an apartment with an oven, and I can’t wait to bake something. 🙂

      You just crack the fresh hazelnuts and eat them plain. Or lightly salt them as you would green almonds. With a glass of white wine, it’s a wonderful starter. Or as the French say, l’apéro.

      Oh, please let me know when you’re passing by. I have a couple of short work trips, but other than that I should be around. September 1, 2012 at 1:02pm Reply

      • Judith: Will do Victoria ! Seeing that you love nuts, bacon, and bitter leaves as much as I do have you tried the salade aux chevre chaud, noix, et lardon ? It’s all those gorgeous things on top of a plate of rucola, endives, & other seasonal leaves dressed with lemon honey vinaigrette. You can get it at most lunch cafes. MMM…I’m salivating already ! September 3, 2012 at 11:37pm Reply

        • Victoria: Hmm, that sounds wonderful, and I have all of the ingredients on hand to make it at home. And yes, this has my name written all over it. 🙂 September 4, 2012 at 5:47am Reply

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