People always want what they can’t have, and idolize that which they don’t really understand. This is the reason that ‘agritourism’ exists, and that people will pay more to pick their own fruit, than for ready-picked fruit. We pale city-dwellers want some of that green, rustic, simple-but-honest action, too. But we can’t have it. And that’s why we want it even more.
This is also the reason that I imagined that shelling a kilo of hazelnuts would be an immensely soothing and enjoyable experience. Turns out I was wrong: it’s a load of dirty baws that will leave you with shaky fingers, cramped up shoulders and your neck in a crook, plus the desire to throttle a cute animal and be unfriendly to your flatmates who know nothing of the terror of shelling hazelnuts, especially when, just like that, they pop one of your painstakingly shelled hazelnuts in their unsuspecting, greedy mouths.
You might remember that I contacted a chap called Luca a few months ago. I had in mind to buy an obscene quantity of hazelnuts off him, which didn’t quite go as expected as he’d already run out by the time I got round to phoning him. These hazelnuts represented my connection to the local countryside, a form of agritourism right in my own kitchen, and I was denied this small pleasure. The disappointment was crushing, even more so because my flatmates continued to supply our household with everything authentic and artisanal and impressive that they could get their Italian hands on. One day, however, in the town of Nizza, Monferrato (of all places!), I found a lady who was selling hazelnuts. She had bags with hazelnuts that she’d already shelled for our convenience, which cost slightly more. “Try a few”, she said, and she offered us all a handful of peeled, toasted hazelnuts. They were nice, delicious even, but I insisted we get the unshelled ones. What a fool I was.
Shelling hazelnuts turned out to be an appropriate punishment for the fourth circle of Hell, rather than the romantically rustic experience I had imagined, and I was soon more than fed up with it. The solution: only use them as a condiment, as a nifty addition to whatever your main ingredient is, and do not try to make you own nutella or hazelnut soufflé. That way you’ll only ever have to shell about ten at a time, which is doable. Or you can just buy a bag of pre-shelled ones, which seems your best option. Gnocchi with leek, gorgonzola and toasted hazelnuts.
For two, use:
- enough gnocchi (if you want to make these yourself, have a look here)
- half a leek, part green, part white
- about 15 hazelnuts
- a good chunk of gorgonzola
- some olive oil, for frying
Shell your hazelnuts, then roast them in a frying pan. The brown skin will come off easily after this. Peel them, roughly chop them and save them for later. No sneaky snacking.
Boil water with enough salt for your gnocchi. Read the instructions on how to cook them: they’re ready when come a’floating, so be prepared to scoop them out with a spoon or a skimmer.
In the meantime, slice up your leek, and fry it in some olive oil. Add a couple of tablespoons of liquid from the gnocchi, then add the gorgonzola, stirring well so that it all dissolves and becomes a creamy sauce.
Chuck in the gnocchi with the sauce, mix well, serve up and top with the roasted hazelnuts.