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I know, I know, it has been far too long since I posted anything here.  I am not going to explain, or apologize, just post!

Tonight we are entertaining old friends.  Of course, dinner is not complicated (it’s summer). We are roasting some chickens on the grill and serving them with sweet potatoes and a big, fresh, green salad.

It’s the before-dinner snacks I fret over.  A bit of salami, some cheese and some smoked salmon all sounded good, and we had some pistachios, in the shell, bought in bulk a week or so ago.  The problem with the nuts is that they were a bit stale.  

I’ve toasted pistachios before, so I thought I’d toss them onto a sheet pan and see if a quick toast in the oven would help.  

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I spread the nuts (shells and all) on a sheet pan, and put them in the oven (which I had set for 350 degrees), while it was still preheating (I know, not a good idea, generally).  After less than 10 minutes (and just after the oven had gotten to temperature) I took them out and let them cool.  

The sweet smell of pistachios filled the room as I opened the oven.  Some of the shells were slightly browned, otherwise they looked as they had before toasting.  After the nuts had cooled, we had a taste, and…

…they are fantastic.  

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A little smoky, a little salty, nice and crunchy.  These are some of the best pistachio nuts I have ever eaten.

Give it a try.  I think you will be surprised.

During the summer I look forward to the weekend for a lot of reasons.  This weekend, in addition to my weekly visit to the local Farmers’ Market, I found time to do a little baking.

I’ve posted about baking biscotti here before, but today I am working on a new recipe, inspired by the incredible Amish Milk Polenta that Anthony and Carol Boutard produce at Ayers Creek Farm in Gaston, OR.

This polenta is amazing cooked up and served under a topping of garlicky greens and caramelized onions, but it’s also incredible as the background crunch in toasty hazelnut biscotti.

These biscotti are a true celebration of local Oregon foods — I also used fresh eggs from Sweet Briar Farms,

and Ken & June’s Oregon Grown hazelnuts.

Here’s the recipe — modified from one I found in Dorie Greenspan’s book Baking: From my home to yours.

Hazelnut Polenta Biscotti

makes 35-40 cookies

1 ½ cups all purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½  teaspoon kosher salt

½ cup white polenta

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 3/4-inch pieces

1 cup turbinado sugar

2 large eggs

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

¾ cups finely chopped roasted hazelnuts

Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl.  Add the polenta and whisk again.  Set aside.

Place the butter and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Start the mixer very slowly and increase gradually to medium speed as the butter and sugar mix together.  Mix for about 3 minutes, until the mixture is very smooth.

Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the eggs.  Continue to beat at medium-high speed for another 2-3 minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed to make sure everything is well-mixed.

Beat in the vanilla extract.

Reduce the mixer speed to slow and add the flour mixture, mixing only until just combined.

Turn off the mixer and use a sturdy spatula to fold in the hazelnuts, mixing just to blend.

Scrape the dough into two rough logs on the prepared baking sheet.  Smooth them with your fingers (I usually have to wash my hands a couple of times as I do this, the dough is very sticky).  The logs will be pretty flat on top, and uneven.

Bake for 15 minutes, until the cookie logs are golden but still springy to the touch.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and place it on a cooling rack.  Cool the logs on the baking sheet for 30 minutes.

Carefully transfer the logs to a cutting board and, using a serrated knife, cut them into ½ inch slices.  Return the slices to the baking rack, standing up, side by side.

Bake the biscotti for another 15 minutes (at 350 degrees), or until they are golden and firm.  Transfer them to the rack to cool.

These cookies keep well, even uncovered, for about a week.  I usually put them in an airtight container.

I have trouble keeping these around — it’s hard to eat just one — I think you could easily double the recipe if you want to make a bigger batch.

My new favorite part of the New York Times is Martha Rose Shulman’s weekly recipe column, Recipes for Health.  Every week she posts delicious, easy and tasty recipes using fresh and seasonal ingredients and every week I am drawn in once again.

A few weeks ago she posted a recipe for eggplant and chickpeas that made my  mouth water, and finally, last night, I had time and the ingredients to make it.

Eggplant is one of my favorite vegetables, and roasted until it is velvety and then paired with chickpeas, tomatoes and pomegranate molasses

it turns absolutely spectacular.  Now, don’t worry, pomegranate molasses is available all over the place these days, by mail order, at Whole Foods, or at your local ethnic grocer.  And it’s an ingredient worth having.  Just try it with eggplant and see!

I, of course, made a few changes to the original recipe, so here’s the version I used.

Eggplant with chickpeas and tomatoes

1 large eggplant (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds), halved lengthwise then cut in 1/2-inch slices

Salt to taste

3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, as needed

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1 large can fire roasted crushed tomatoes (I used Muir Glen)

3 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon brown sugar

Freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

1 large can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

2 to 3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley, mint and basil

Serves 4-6 as a side dish

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with foil and brush it with olive oil.  Place the eggplant slices on the foil, salt them lightly and brush them with olive oil.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the eggplant is lightly browned and feels soft and dry to the touch.

Remove from the oven, and fold over the foil to make a packet around the eggplant slices. Allow them to soften and steam inside the foil while you prepare the rest of the dish.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy casserole or skillet.

Add the garlic. Cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Stir in the canned and chopped tomatoes, salt to taste, sugar, pepper and cinnamon. Bring to a simmer, and simmer uncovered over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring often, until the tomatoes have cooked down and smell very fragrant.

Add the eggplant, molasses and chickpeas. Simmer uncovered for another 20 minutes, stirring from time to time. The mixture should be thick and the eggplant should be very tender, melting into the mixture.

Taste and adjust seasoning. Sprinkle on the chopped parsley, mint and basil and serve, hot, warm or at room temperature.

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