I inherited my passion for cooking from my mom. But my dad is the one who got me hooked on cookbooks.
For a few years in the 1990s, my dad gave me a cookbook every Christmas. I do not know what precipitated this tradition (my mom was always the holiday shopper in the house). And it was a short-lived one, ending after four or five years, as mysteriously as it had begun. It had a lasting effect, though, whether intended or not. For material me, it is not really Christmas unless there is a cookbook under the tree.
The books my dad gave me shared a common theme—they were all New York City restaurant cookbooks. Among them were Alfred Portale’s Gotham Bar and Grill Cookbook, The Mezzaluna Cookbook, and The Union Square Cafe Cookbook.
For a while I cooked from these books often, especially The Union Square Cafe Cookbook, which I gravitated towards. I liked the tenor of the book, and the slightly grainy black and white photos (which I suspect might not go over well today given our penchant for food porn photography). I liked the recipes, too. They were sophisticated but still within reach of a young, interested cook. Many of them riffed on Italian classics.
My cookbook shelves have filled to capacity since I was given that book and it’s been a long while since I’ve cooked from it. In that, it is not alone; most of the cookbooks in my collection don’t get the workout they deserve. But there is one recipe from The Union Square Cafe Cookbook that never got shelved: the bar nuts.
These are my favorite spiced nuts and I’ve been asked for the recipe more times than I can count. I think it might be the rosemary—there is lots of it and it is sharp and resinous and fragrant. These nuts smell and taste of the holidays.
On Thursday, set out a bowl or two or three of bar nuts to calm the hungry hordes while you are basting the turkey or mashing the potatoes or whipping the cream for the pumpkin pie (perhaps while knocking back a bourbon). And be sure to save a handful or two for yourself.
Wishing you and yours a happy and peaceful Thanksgiving. Buon appetito.
(adapted slightly from The Union Square Cafe Cookbook, by Danny Meyer and Michael Romano; 1994 Harper Collins)
- 5 cups mixed raw nuts (I like almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, and walnuts)
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- 2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Toss the nuts in a large bowl to combine and spread them out on a rimmed cookie sheet. Toast in the oven until they become light golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.
In the large bowl, combine the rosemary, cayenne, brown sugar, salt, and melted butter. Thoroughly toss the warm toasted nuts with the spiced butter.
Serve warm or at room temperature.