The July 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Margie of More Please and Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make their own nut butter from scratch, and use the nut butter in a recipe. Their sources include Better with Nut Butter by Cooking Light Magazine, Asian Noodles by Nina Simonds, and Food Network online.
Margie and Natashya put together an impressive amount of information on nut butters and a nice selection of recipes. You can find everything on this page. From the array of choices offered, I selected to make burro di noci (walnut butter) and use it in the preparation of Walnut White Bean Dip with Rosemary & Sage (salsa cremosa di fagioli bianchi e noci con rosmarino e salvia). The most important adjustment I made to the original recipe is that I started from dry beans — cannellini, to be precise (a.k.a, white kidney beans).
Cooking dry beans. The way I cook beans for further use comes from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison (Beans with Aromatics). After soaking half a cup of dry beans for several hours or overnight in enough water to cover them by about an inch (I use two cups), empty the whole bowl into a saucepan and add half of a small onion (or a quarter of a medium one), halved, a bay leaf, a small clove of garlic, sliced, and a couple of sprigs of fresh parsley. Bring the water to a lively boil quickly, and keep it there for five minutes, then turn down the heat and let the beans simmer, covered, until they are ready. How long this takes depends on the type of beans and their freshness. Let them cool in their broth, then remove the aromatics and discard them.
The walnuts I used to make walnut butter are local and came to me still in their shells (gusci). While I recognize the ease of use of shelled walnuts, I like to do the shelling myself, playing the same game I played as a child, nutcracker (schiaccianoci) in hand, i.e., to crack the shell leaving the gheriglio whole. The whole walnut (noce) will soon be broken into pieces by my teeth, but I enjoy the skill displayed into imparting the right amount of pressure to the nutcracker to achieve the stated goal.
The process I apply to walnuts before I use them comes also from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison, and is described in this post. If I don't use all the walnuts I have prepared, I store the leftovers in the fridge. Finally, the fresh rosmarino and salvia (rosemary and sage) for the dip came from my herb garden.
Once the ingredients were ready, the food processor made the preparation of the walnut butter and then of the dip a breeze. My husband and I enjoyed the dip for dinner. By chance, on the table there was a trio of foods all including walnuts: besides the dip, the other two were my homemade Walnut Sourdough Bread and my homemade Stirred-Curd Cheddar with Walnuts. You may remember that in a recent post, I showed a photo of this cheese when it was still in the aging phase and I mentioned a secret ingredient. The secret is now revealed: chopped walnuts. I must say I love the result: The walnuts pair well with the slightly sharp cheddar.
You will find a lot of variety, both in terms of the kind of nut butter made and the dish in which it was used, when you browse the creations of my fellow Daring Cooks. A special thank to Margie and Natashya for an interesting and fun challenge. I will certainly revisit it later to make another type of nut butter.