Updated July 2010.
Two things I did not learn by watching Jennifer Lopez pretend to be a wedding planner:
In ancient Rome, a groom would throw walnuts to the wedding guests, much as we toss rice today, as a sign of his transition to manhood, and to bring good health and increased fertility.
In Romania, on the other hand, a bride would place one roasted walnut in her bodice for every year she wished to remain childless.
Walnuts -- Viagra or birth control?
Whatever their mythical powers, walnuts are just plain good food, and I always have a bag of shelled walnuts in my freezer. For years those bags would come from my friend Candy, whose mom would send them from Oregon along with an equally large quantity of prunes (not sure about the connection between the two). Though walnuts are indigenous to India as well as parts of North and South America, they are cultivated in California, Turkey, China, Iran and France.
Persian walnuts, often called English walnuts in the US, boast a relatively thin shell, large "meat", and mild taste, making them the all-around favorite for snacking and cooking. Black and white walnuts have a stronger flavor and are, literally, tough nuts to crack.
On the health front, walnuts provide an abundance of omega-3 fatty acids, up to 90 percent of the recommended daily requirement in just a quarter of a cup of nuts.
All nuts are perishable. Store walnuts in an air-tight container, in the refrigerator (for up to six months) or in the freezer (indefinitely), away from foods with strong odors like fish or onions. They'll be ready whenever you need them, to make candied walnuts, tarator sauce, or pesto.
White chocolate brownies
This recipe comes from the Nantucket Open House Cookbook, one of my all-time favorite cookbooks by Sara Leah Chase. Only the nuts have been changed. Makes 20-25 brownies; can be made days ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator, but beware of nibblers.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
10 oz white chocolate, broken into small pieces
1-1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 325°F. Line an 11 x 9 inch pan with aluminum foil, leaving a little overhang around the edges of the pan. Butter the foil.
In a large saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and chocolate, stirring frequently, until melted and smooth. Remove from the heat. Using a wooden spoon, stir the sugar into the melted chocolate, then stir in the eggs and vanilla. The mixture will look curdled. Add the flour, salt and nuts and quickly stir just until mixed. Pour the batter into the pan. Bake the brownies until the top is lightly golden but the center is still somewhat soft when pressed lightly, 30-35 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate at least 3 hours. Using the foil, lift the brownies from the pan. Cut into small squares.
Other recipes that use walnuts:
Honey walnut shrimp, from Rasa Malaysia
Fresh spinach reginette pasta with walnut pesto, from Ms. Adventures in Italy
Maple walnut popcorn, from Food Blogga
Gluten free cranberry walnut chocolate chip cookies, from Elana's Pantry
Banana chocolate walnut bread, from The Wednesday Chef
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