Something to munch on as the drinks are poured and the guests begin arriving. Something to flex jaw muscles as people hover around the kitchen, inhaling the scents of roasting bird and salivating, all Pavlovian-like, at the sight of pan gravy coming together. Something to look pretty, scattered about the house in precious little ceramic bowls and tiny dishes. Something that's easy to make from ingredients likely to be found in any freezer and pantry. Something warmly-spiced and festive-looking.
Something like nuts. Herbed, toasted, spiced nuts, to be exact.
It's way more fun to prepare and serve your own wonderfully-flavored nuts than it is to pick up ready-mixed nuts at the grocery store. It's also super-easy and the resulting mix tastes much better -- and is significantly less salty -- than what comes out of a can. This mix was born of necessity one snack-less holiday, when I reached into Mom's freezer where she keeps what she calls "the nut bag." You never know what types of nuts you'll find in the nut bag: almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, pine nuts, cashews, Brazil nuts. Sometimes there are sesame seeds, which are not in fact nuts but find themselves cozying up to the nut bag regardless. (Actually, you'll hardly ever find cashews in Mom's nut bag, as they're Dad's favorite and rarely survive more than a few days in the house.) As a matter of housekeeping -- should you wish to start your very own nut bag -- it is best to use a large plastic bag to house many smaller plastic bags, to keep each nut variety separate. Sometimes the smaller bags are secured with rubber bands, sometimes those black office binder clips. Like Mom, the nut bag is full of surprises.
Anyway, I reached into the nut bag, extracted some of whatever was in there at the time, then went spelunking in the spice cabinet for some flavor to accompany the nuts. I also cut off a bit of fresh rosemary from Mom's plant that was still a hold-out from the summer, surviving nicely in her bright kitchen well into the winter. I mixed everything with some olive oil and a little salt, then roasted the concoction in the oven until it smelled pleasing. And a Thanksgiving snack was born.
Of course, these nuts are good any old time. You don't have to wait for Thanksgiving. They're wonderful set out in a pretty ramekin on a cheese board. They're great to snack on as you're enjoying a little post-work martini. Package them in a cellophane bag with a stylish ribbon for an easy hostess gift. Or give them to your dad for him to enjoy as he watches National Treasure on cable for the 58th time*.
Like I have to tell you when to eat nuts. You already know when to eat nuts, innately, because everyone needs snacks.
MIXED NUTS WITH CUMIN AND ROSEMARY
Toasting and grinding your own spices will make a world of difference to this (and just about every other!) recipe. If you have the time, go ahead and buy the cumin and coriander whole, toast them over low heat in a dry skillet until they're fragrant, then grind in a spice/coffee grinder.
And of course you can use any ol' nut that happens to be in your nut bag. Lots of pistachios? Throw them in! No cashews? Who cares!
1 c. raw unsalted cashews
1 c. raw unsalted almonds
1 c. raw unsalted pecans
1 c. raw unsalted walnuts
1 c. raw unsalted hazelnuts
1/2 c. pine nuts
2 T. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 T. cumin
1 T. coriander
1 t. kosher salt
1/3 c. olive oil
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss to combine well. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet; bake until toasty brown and fragrant, 13-15 minutes.
Cool slightly on the baking sheet and serve while warm.
Makes about 6 cups.
*UPDATE, 11/18/2008, 8:27 p.m.: As I write, Dad is watching National Treasure for the 59th time. He just called to tell me they're at the part where Gates and his group of treasure-finding merrymakers enter Trinity Church in Manhattan.