At Nostrana in Portland, chef Cathy Whims adds hazelnuts to bring an Oregonian flair to her pesto sauce, rich with Parmesan cheese, basil and extra virgin olive oil. Whims, who was a finalist this year for the prestigious James Beard Award for the best chef in the Northwest, said the hazelnut adds a lightly toasted nut flavor to her rustic Italian cuisine.
“I like cooking with hazelnuts because they are such great local treasure,” says Whims. “Also they are a highly prized nut from my favorite region of Italy—Piemonte. They find their way into many traditional Piemontese dishes here at Nostrana such as Brutti e Buoni cookies (‘ugly and good’ hazelnut meringues); gianduja gelato (chocolate hazelnut); and salsa verde, a green nut sauce.”
This recipe is a wonderful room-temperature sauce for salmon, halibut, tuna, chicken breasts and, of course, fettuccine and potato gnocchi.
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 cups basil leaves, tightly packed
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup hazelnuts lightly toasted and skins off
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
3 tablespoons fresh ricotta cheese (preferably sheep’s milk)
2 tablespoons butter at room temperature
Finely chop hazelnuts. In a mortar and pestle, crush garlic to a puree with a pinch of salt. Add to a food processor along with basil. Pulse on and off until basil is chopped, then let run while pouring olive oil through the feed tube. Remove from processor to a bowl, fold in Parmigiano, ricotta and butter and season with salt.