Native Italian chefs are masters of enriching foods with nuts. With local farmers growing bumper crops, chefs have a wealth of nut varieties at hand. Among their favorites are almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pine nuts, and pistachios.
This article gives fun, healthy ways to use these nuts in Italian cuisine. It contains serving suggestions, links to lots of recipes, and a sprinkling of video demonstrations. If you’re a whiz in the kitchen, you’ll wow those who taste your winning dishes!
1. Versatile Almonds
Shelled almonds are oval with wrinkled skins. They can taste either earthy or mildly sweet, depending on almond variety and geographic source. Roasting almonds enhance their aroma, flavor, and crispiness. Blanched almonds have their skins removed, leaving them white and smooth.
Dressing Italian dishes with almonds gives them a satisfying crunch. For ease of use in recipes, it’s best to buy shelled nuts. Supermarkets sell almonds whole, sliced, roasted, blanched, and slivered. Generally, you’ll find almonds in the aisle for nuts, and possibly, in produce departments.
Ideally, buy unsalted nuts, to avoid raising your blood pressure and the risk of heart disease.
Almond milk is a delicious, thirst-quenching beverage! Making almond milk entails blending almonds, water, and agents to impart creaminess. Most supermarkets carry almond milk, stocking it near their bottled juices and refrigerated milk. This article reveals the best brands of almond milk currently sold.
Almond flour has a nutty flavor and fine texture. If you like to bake and avoid gluten, use almond flour as a substitute for wheat flour. You can also swap almond flour for breadcrumbs. Here’s a guide for using almond flour in recipes.
Making almond flour is easy! Just grind up blanched almonds in a food processor. If you’d rather save time, you’ll find almond flour at natural food stores and online.
Almond butter tastes rich and earthy. Commercial brands are made with or without blanched almonds. Almond butter from whole nuts has more fiber, minerals, and vitamins than peanut butter. As with almond flour, you can get almond butter online and in health food stores.
NOTE – The following highlighted serving suggestions link to online recipes.
Almonds Italian Style
- Almond biscotti;
- Italian poached eggs with diced tomatoes and almonds; granola with almonds, coconut, and almond milk;
- Oatmeal and cherries with almonds. Speaking of cherries, here’s how to choose the best.
- Sicilian eggplant and almond pasta;
- Roasted beet and goat cheese salad;
- Quinoa salad with almonds, strawberries, and feta cheese.
- Green beans and slivered almonds;
- Roasted carrots with almond pesto;
- Orecchiette pasta with arugula pesto and almonds.
Here’s a video demo of a recipe for almond biscotti:
For a bevy of Italian recipes starring almonds, see this collection.
2. Exotic Hazelnuts
Also called filberts, these nuts impart a sweet, buttery taste to Italian cuisine. Even if you pair hazelnuts with other zesty foods, their sweetness comes through. Hazelnuts are crunchy at first bite, then divinely creamy.
The shells of hazelnuts resemble acorns without caps. If you buy whole hazelnuts, after cracking the shells, you must remove their bitter skins before eating them.
You can buy shelled hazelnuts whole, raw, roasted, blanched, and chopped. Currently, Walmart has a broad selection on its website.
Filberts can be made into a paste, butter, oil, and flour. The oil tastes deeply nutty. Italian chefs toss it with pasta and veggies. You can also add hazelnut oil to sauces, marinades, dips, salad dressings, and baked goods.
Hazelnuts Italian Style
- Omelets with hazelnuts;
- Banana hazelnut breakfast quinoa. If quinoa is unfamiliar, it’s a nutty-flavored seed. This article explains why quinoa is so satisfying and where to buy it.
- Gorgonzola and hazelnut stuffed mushrooms;
- Roasted red pepper and hazelnut dip;
- Whipped feta apple hazelnut canapés.
- Grate toasted hazelnuts over spaghetti, as you would cheese. Add them to stuffing and toss them with pasta;
- Grind hazelnuts into flour to make biscuits and tortes.
Here are healthy recipes for dessert truffles, pumpkin Alfredo, fennel pesto, and homemade Nutella!
3. Fancy Walnuts
Shelled walnuts are bumpy and ruffled, adding visual interest to Italian meals. The most popular variety is the English walnut. Its nutmeat is golden brown with a mild tang and slight astringency.
Walnut shells are large and challenging to crack. Therefore, to streamline cooking and eating, purchase them shelled. Grocery stores carry walnuts raw, roasted, whole, and chopped. Typically, you’ll find walnuts near the baking supplies or in produce departments.
This specialty oil has a sunny color and delicate nuttiness. Walnut oil is best suited to cold dishes since heating it can add bitterness. Use walnut oil in salad dressings, pasta dishes, and even desserts.
Walnuts Italian Style
- asparagus, goat cheese, and walnut tart;
- cranberry walnut granola bars;
- banana nut bread;
- banana nut breakfast bowl with farro. If you’ve never heard of farro, it’s a nutty-tasting type of wheat, detailed here.
- Pear, Gorgonzola, and walnut salad;
- Strawberry salad with feta and walnuts;
- Roasted cauliflower and walnut dip.
- Spaghetti with basil-walnut pesto;
- Penne with walnuts and peppers;
- Pasta with herbed walnut sauce; squash and spinach lasagna roll-ups;
- walnut pumpkin custard.
Here’s a video recipe for dark chocolate walnut bars, using natural ingredients:
4. Buttery Pine Nuts
Prized by Italians, these nuts come from the pine cones of certain pine species. Harvesting pine nuts is labor-intensive, which is why they’re so expensive.
Shelled pine nuts are roughly a half-inch long, teardrop-shaped, and ivory-colored. They taste sweet and buttery, and their texture is soft.
Italian markets are an ideal source of pine nuts. Look for them by their Italian name, “pignolias.”
If you don’t have an Italian grocery nearby, the easiest way to get pignolias is online. Still, some supermarkets carry them, such as Safeway, Whole Foods, Walmart, Publix, and Kroger. These stores keep pine nuts in various locations. Possibilities include the produce department and the aisles for spices, nuts, and baking supplies.
Pine Nuts Italian Style
Scrambled eggs with spinach, feta, and pine nuts; and fresh figs with yogurt and pignolias.
- Quinoa salad with pine nuts, Parmesan, and kale;
- Zucchini ribbons with Parmesan pine nuts;
- Squash with farro, pine nuts, radicchio, and miso. For more on miso, a savory soybean paste, see this article.
- Orecchiette pasta with corn, basil, and pine nuts; basil pesto;
- Broccoli rabe with Parmesan and pignolias;
- Pumpkin gnocchi with pine nuts and ricotta.
Note – Pine nuts can leave a metallic aftertaste, depending on their source. This effect, called “pine nut syndrome,” can last for a few days. Pine nuts from China are most likely to cause this reaction. Therefore, when grocery shopping, read labels, avoiding pine nuts imported from China.
Here’s a mouthwatering demo of how to make basil pesto:
5. Hearty Pistachios
Pistachios are steeped in amusing folklore. In Middle Eastern countries, the sound of a pistachio shell cracking open is said to bring good luck. Persians refer to pistachios as smiling nuts since the split shells look like smiles. Similarly, in China, pistachios are called happy nuts.
The nutmeats are green, white, and brown, tucked inside beige shells. Pistachios taste mildly sweet and chewy. Note that the healthiest nuts are dye-free and unsalted. For use in recipes, buy pistachios shelled and either raw or roasted.
As a snack, in-shell pistachios support weight loss efforts! Having to pry the shells open slows the pace of nibbling. Meanwhile, the fiber in pistachios is very filling.
It’s tough to find unsalted pistachios in supermarkets. Your best bet is shopping online for both shelled and in-shell nuts.
This oil is deep olive with a bold pistachio flavor. To avoid overpowering Italian dishes, dilute pistachio oil with a neutral one, such as canola. Then, drizzle the blend over pasta, vegetables, fruit salads, or toast. You can also blend it with salad dressings and dips.
Pistachios Italian Style
- Minestrone with pistachio pesto;
- Leek and potato galette in a pistachio crust;
- Pistachio-pesto hummus; and broccoli-quinoa-pistachio salad with buttermilk dressing. Here are tips for finding buttermilk in supermarkets.
- Pistachio lemon pasta;
- Stuffed mushrooms with asparagus and pistachios; pistachio ice cream;
- Dark chocolate-cherry pistachio bars.
Here’s a fascinating demo of making honey pistachio biscotti.
To craft pistachio ice cream, see this recipe, including awesome photos.
Italian chefs pour their love into cooking! When guests share their culinary masterpieces, the bonds between them strengthen.
Even if you’re not Italian, why not follow their example? Start by using the nuts and classic recipes above, serving them to your family. You’re bound to grow even closer. And if any folks are acting distant, you’ll surely win them over!