Walnuts a savoury holiday treat

Oysters Rockefeller (Courtesy of California Walnuts)

Oysters Rockefeller (Courtesy of California Walnuts)

RITA DeMONTIS, National Food Editor, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:48 AM ET

Carols on the radio, Santa in the malls — you know the party season's coming our way very quickly. Baking and making and creating are the buzzwords for the next few weeks.

I like to think walnuts taste best in baked goods, but they do wonderful double-duty in the savoury department, too! Walnuts can easily add an array of appetizing flavour and visual appeal to a wide range of festive dishes. From hosting a fabulous fête and serving sustenance, just keep a bag of walnuts handy and you're guaranteed holiday success.

The following recipes are courtesy of California Walnuts (Walnutinfo.com).

OYSTERS ROCKEFELLER

Celebrate this holiday season in style with a unique take on a classic appetizer. These savoury oysters feature California walnuts and sambuca liqueur.

1/4 cup (50 ml) panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

1/4 cup (50 ml) walnut pieces, toasted

1/2 cup (125 ml) grated Parmesan cheese

4 Tbsp. (60 ml) butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 shallot, minced

2 cups (500 ml) spinach

2 Tbsp. (30 ml) sambuca or anise liqueur

24 oysters, shucked

Red pepper sauce

Lemon

Rock salt (optional)

Toasting Walnuts: In large, dry skillet over medium-high heat, toast walnuts, stirring occasionally, until lightly brown, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400F (200C).

Walnut/Panko Mixture: Combine panko, walnuts and Parmesan in a small bowl; set aside.

In a small frying pan, heat butter over medium-low heat. Add garlic and saute. Spoon out 2 Tbsp. (30 ml) and stir into walnut/panko mixture.

Add shallot, spinach and liqueur to frying pan and saute on high heat until spinach is wilted, about 3 minutes; remove and let cool slightly.

On a rimmed baking sheet, space oysters evenly. Top with 3 to 4 spinach leaves, a few drops of red pepper sauce and 2 tsp (10 ml) walnut/panko mixture. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Serve immediately with lemon wedges on a bed of rock salt.

Makes 6 servings.

STILTON, PORT AND WALNUT PATE

Poached pears combined with creamy stilton cheese create a flavourful, mouth-watering addition to your holiday buffet.

1 small pear (firm but ripe), diced

1/3 cup (75 ml) port

1/3 cup (75 ml) water

1 Tbsp. (15 ml) sugar

1/3 cup (75 ml) crumbled stilton

2 Tbsp. (30 ml) cream cheese, softened

1 Tbsp. (15 ml) butter, softened

2 tsp. (10 ml) minced parsley

2 Tbsp. (30 ml) lemon juice

1/3 cup (75 ml) toasted and finely chopped walnuts

Toasting Walnuts: In large, dry skillet over medium-high heat, toast walnuts, stirring occasionally, until lightly brown, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Poached Pear: Heat a small heavy bottomed frying pan over medium-high heat. Add pear, port, water and sugar. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to medium to soften pear, about 10 minutes. Increase to high heat to reduce juices to a syrup, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

Stilton/Walnut Mix: In a small bowl, add stilton, cream cheese, butter, parsley and lemon juice and mix until well combined. Add walnuts.

Line a 1 cup (250 ml) ramekin or custard cup with plastic wrap and fill with half of the stilton/walnut mix. Then layer with half of poached diced pear. Repeat steps with remaining stilton/walnut mix and poached pear.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Remove plastic wrap; slice pate into wedges and serve.

TIPS: Pate can be prepared a day ahead and stored in the refrigerator.

Serve with crackers, fresh baguette, grapes and/or as part of a cheese tray.

WALNUT ENCRUSTED SHRIMP WITH PONZU GLAZE

A simple appetizer of jumbo shrimp wrapped in a walnut coating, married with a sweet and savoury sauce, will delight seafood lovers. Note, ponzu is a traditional Japanese sauce used in cooking and as a dipping sauce that has a taste similar to soy but with a slightly citrus flavour.

1/4 cup (50 ml) ponzu sauce

1 Tbsp. (15 ml) sugar

1/2 tsp. (2 ml) cornstarch

1 egg, beaten

1/3 cup (75 ml) flour

1/2 cup (125 ml) walnuts, finely chopped

1/4 cup (50 ml) panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

Salt and pepper to taste

12 jumbo shrimp, raw, peeled and deveined

Vegetable or canola oil for frying

In a small pan over medium-high heat, combine ponzu sauce, sugar and cornstarch, stirring frequently until glaze is thickened, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Place egg in one bowl, flour in second bowl. Combine walnuts and panko crumbs in third bowl. Season all three bowls with salt and pepper.

Holding tail, coat each shrimp evenly with flour, then dip into egg mixture and place into walnut mixture, turning to coat all over. Repeat steps until all shrimp are coated.

Pour enough oil into deep-fryer or deep heavy-bottomed pot to fill at least 2 inches (5 cm). Heat to 375F (190C) or until a 1-inch (2.5 cm) cube of white bread turns golden brown in 30 seconds. Fry 3 to 4 shrimp at a time, turning once, until golden, about 1 to 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer shrimp to a paper towel-lined baking sheet.

Serve warm with ponzu glaze.

WALNUTS POTS DE CRÈME

With a hint of orange liqueur and nutty flavour, these creamy, rich pots de creme are the perfect end to a special dinner.

1 cup (250 ml) toasted and finely ground walnuts

2 cups (500 ml) whipping cream

4 oz (125 g) good quality dark chocolate, chopped

3 Tbsp. (45 ml) orange liqueur

6 egg yolks

5 Tbsp. (75 ml) sugar

Toasting Walnuts: In large, dry skillet over medium-high heat, toast walnuts, stirring occasionally, until lightly brown, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325F (160C).

In a small sauce pan over medium-high heat, combine walnuts, cream, chocolate and orange liqueur. Stirring frequently, heat until all chocolate has melted and mixture is near boiling, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine egg yolks and sugar and whisk until just combined, about 1 to 2 minutes. Slowly add hot cream while whisking to prevent curdling. Whisk until combined.

Pour mixture into six 3/4 cup (175 ml) ramekins or custard cups and place into a baking dish. Add hot water to baking dish until it reaches halfway up outside of ramekins. Bake for 20 minutes and let cool.

Serve warm or at room temperature, with fresh whipped cream and berries, if desired.

TIP: Pots de Creme can be made one day ahead and stored in fridge; bring to room temperature before serving.

Serves 6.

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