Creating a new recipe is rarely a solo process. Today's recipe for an amazing pesto is a case in point. Here's how it came about.
Several weeks ago I mentioned in an article that I didn't know of anyone making a commercial vegetable oil in Whatcom County to use for locavore cooking. (A locavore is a person who eats only locally grown food as much as possible.)
Soon afterward I received a phone message from Holmquist Hazelnut Orchards letting me know they make an oil from their hazelnuts. I had known that, but had heard hazelnut oil was not suitable for cooking because it had a low smoke point and so would burn easily. However, I realized I wasn't sure where I had gotten that idea, so I made a note to do more research when I had time.
The next time I visited Bellingham Farmers Market I saw the Holmquist booth and stopped to look at their bottles of hazelnut oil. I asked about the smoke point, and was told it was actually fairly high. The oil was expensive enough that I didn't purchase any at that time, but I started thinking about how it might be used to advantage in recipes.
When I got home I started reading up. I learned that hazelnut oil is similar to extra virgin olive oil in terms of fat quality, calories and nutrition. Even the smoke point of the two oils is nearly identical.
Hazelnut oil is a rich source of vitamin E, B vitamins and omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids, associated with helping to reduce cancer risk. It contains very little saturated fat and has a lot of oleic acid, which has been found to help reduce high cholesterol levels. Hazelnut oil is also great for the skin and is often used in massage oil blends. In short, it's a very healthy oil.
For cooking, hazelnut oil has a fairly strong, slightly sweet flavor. However much of the flavor breaks down when the oil is heated. If you just want an oil to keep things from sticking to the pan, it will work just fine.
If you want make use of the nutty flavor, it's best to use it as a "finishing" oil, added to hot ingredients just before serving. For example, several food writers recommend drizzling a little hazelnut oil over roasted cauliflower, saying the combination was a flavor extravaganza.
With strong-flavored ingredients, there are two approaches to using it in recipes. First, a small amount of strong flavor can add brightness to foods with relatively bland flavors. Second, an ingredient with hearty flavor can be combined with other rich flavors to build intensity. That has to be done carefully to make sure the flavors complement each other.
Using the first approach, hazelnut oil can be used to drizzle over a baked potato, or used in much the same way you'd use a pat of butter on top of steamed vegetables. Since ripe, farm-fresh ingredients are flavorful to begin with, adding just of touch of something with a strong flavor is often all that's needed to make the taste memorable.
A couple of weeks later I headed to the Farmers Market with hazelnut oil on my shopping list. I still hadn't decided exactly how to use it, but I had some ideas. I knew it was often used in salad dressings, and thought it might be good for sautéing fresh vegetables in a stir fry. I figured I would experiment once I got it home.
When I reached the market, I began browsing through the farm booths. Terra Verde Garden is one of my favorites, since the food that Amy and Skuter Fontaine produce is always high quality and certified organic. I was happy to see garlic scapes were in season.
I'd recently posted my archive of recipe photos (taken by my daughter Joan) to Pinterest.com, and the Garlic Scapes Omelet turned out to be wildly popular. (Pinterest.com allows people to make collections of photos they find online, linked to their original sources, according to their personal interests.)
As I was deciding what to purchase, Amy saw me looking at the scapes, and mentioned she'd found a wonderful recipe for a garlic scapes pesto. That was it! I could try using hazelnut oil as the base for pesto sauce. If it worked, it would be a great example of combining several strong flavors into something intense and wonderful.
Note: Many of the market vendors have printed copies of their favorite recipes using some of their less-familiar produce items. Just ask and they'll be happy to give them to you.
I was excited to start working with the flavors. I revised the original recipe to use all local ingredients and to balance the tastes. The result? Well, let's just say that in our household it produced the reaction all cooks love to see. You know the one. You put food on your tongue, and suddenly stop whatever else you were doing. Your eyes close, your whole body relaxes, and you let out an involuntary sigh, "Wow ..."
It takes a village to create a recipe.
GARLIC SCAPES PESTO
1 bunch (8-9) garlic scapes (Terra Verde Garden, Everson)
1/4 cup hazelnuts (Holmquist Hazelnut Orchards, Lynden)
3/4 cup hazelnut oil
1/4 cup homemade paneer cheese (made with milk from Fresh Breeze Organic Dairy, Lynden)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Coarsely chop the garlic scapes and put them into a food processor.
Add the hazelnuts and start the processor. Slowly trickle in the oil to make a thick sauce.
Move the mixture into a mixing bowl. Crumble the cheese into the mixture and mix, mashing the cheese with a fork to break it into smaller bits.
Add salt to taste.
Makes about 11/2 to 2 cups of pesto. Because the pesto is intensely flavored, serve it sparingly over cooked pasta (Bellingham Pasta, Bellingham).
You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.
Acme Farms + Kitchen
Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996; appel-farms.com
Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959; artisanwineclub.com
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060; bellinghamfarmers.org
Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699; boxxberryfarm.com
Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859; cloudmountainfarm.com
Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158; communityfood.coop
Everybody's Store, 5465 Potter Road, Deming; 360-592-2297; everybodys.com
Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747; ferndalepublicmarket.org
Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151; graceharborfarms.com
Green Barn, 8858 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-354-1008
Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433
Lynden Farmers Market, 514 Liberty St., Lynden, fiveloavesfarm.blogspot.com
Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398; facebook.com/pages/Pleasant-Valley-Dairy/161872142667
Red Barn Lavender Farm (egg CSA), 3106 Thornton Road, Ferndale; 360-393-7057
Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637
The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190; islandergrocery.com
The Markets LLC, 3125 Old Fairhaven Parkway and 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797; themarketsllc.com
Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020; terra-organica.com