Pecans: Another Nut From Texas

Nobody's quite sure from exactly where pecans originated, but the best guess is Texas. At any rate, it was someplace between there and Illinois. The pecan is a genuine U.S. nut - kind of like Howard Hughes or Jerry Lewis.

Even now, 500 years after Europeans ate their first pecans, they still haven't warmed to them, probably because they already had the walnut, which may have made another nut seem redundant. Although the pecan resembles the walnut - the two are distant cousins - it is actually a species of hickory. The high maintenance that pecan trees require may also play a role - they are hard to grow and slow to yield a harvest. The U.S. exports some of the nuts, but its biggest customer is Canada; very few go to Europe. Tham thar Eur ah peens don't know from peeeeeeecans.

Europeans' preference for walnuts over pecans is just one more thing I'll never understand about them, along with the Euro currency unit and those itty-bitty bathing suits.

Pecans are usually sold as intact halves or in small pieces. Unless your dish specifically calls for pecan halves, buy the pieces because they're less expensive. Store pecans in the refrigerator or freezer; their high fat content makes them likely to become rancid.

  • Top carrot or butternut-squash soup with chopped toasted pecans.
  • Add coarsely chopped pecans to pancake or waffle batter; top the finished product with candied pecans.
  • Toss pecans with asparagus, green beans, or brussels sprouts in a lemon-butter dressing.
  • Substitute pecans for pine nuts in pesto.
  • Top vanilla or butter-pecan ice cream with toasted nuts and warm maple syrup.
  • Dredge snapper or sea bass fillets in egg, flour, and chopped pecans (separately, in that order), and panfry them. Serve with a cream or mustard sauce.
  • As a side dish for poultry or game, add pecans and chopped dried fruit (currants, raisins, figs, or apricots) to bulgur wheat, barley, or couscous.
  • Use toasted pecans as a simple topping for a fruit crisp.

But with all that said, I know what you're going to do with your pecans: You're going to make a pie, and I don't blame you - save me a slice.

Winter Pear Salad with Toasted Pecans

4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
4 pears, peeled & cored, cut into quarters
6 ounces Parmesan cheese, in a wedge
2 heads Belgian endive, separated into leaves
2 heads radicchio, torn into large pieces
2 bunches arugula
1/2 cup pecans, toasted & coarsely chopped

1. In very large bowl, with wire whisk or fork, mix vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper. In small amounts, whisk in olive oil until blended. Add the pear wedges and toss to coat with dressing.

2. With vegetable peeler, shave about 1 cup of loosely packed shavings from the wedge of Parmesan cheese and set aside.

3. Add radicchio, endive, and arugula to bowl with pears; gently toss until evenly coated. Top with pecans and Parmesan shavings and serve.

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