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Kevin’s Kitchen

A Treat from the Trees

Pecans are a versatile, healthy ingredient

The house where I grew up, and where my family still lives, has a yard full of pecan trees. In the fall, we would search in the grass for their bounty. Most of the whole nuts went into a large paper bag for cracking and picking out later. Some never even made it that far. They ended up smashed and eaten in a rush of instant gratification.

Later, we’d crack the nuts, break them open and clean out the meats, making sure to remove every piece of the bitter inner shells. Then we could enjoy the fruits (or nuts) of our labor in gooey pies or roasted with spices.

But desserts and snacks aren’t the only things you can make with pecans. Their versatility lends itself to every course, including some intriguing main dishes.

In her book In Praise of Pecans (Bright Sky Press, 2007), June Jackson traces the history of the nut’s use, from Native Americans 9,000 years ago up to modern farming, harvesting and processing techniques.

Along with this history and a discussion of the pecan’s impact on early Ameri-can settlers, Jackson, who grew up in Louisiana, also relates her personal memories of her family’s use of pecans, including a touching recollection of her mother’s candy making.

“As far as I know, she made her last batch of pralines in February 2001, a few days before she died. She used that same recipe, the one people had begged off her for over 60 years, and its goodness never failed her.

“When my mother got out the waxed paper, I knew she was getting ready to make candy. I had seen her reach for the skinny box, colored the same light blue and red, for as long as I could remember. This gesture meant she had an urge to make candy, be it divinity, date loaf, caramel fudge or pralines.”

Among the traditional recipes for candy, pie and condiments featuring pecans in Jackson’s book are some featuring not-so-common ingredients—duck, quail and kohlrabi. Here’s a twist on pizza featuring pecans.

Four-Cheese Pecan Pizza

Pizza crust (fresh or refrigerated)
2 tablespoons pecan or olive oil (divided)
2 large onions, sliced
1 package (3 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup goat cheese, softened
1/2 cup crumbled feta or blue cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup pecan pieces
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Put dough on a 12-inch pizza pan. Brush with 1 tablespoon oil. Place in oven for 3 minutes (to prevent soggy dough). Remove from oven and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat remaining oil. Cook onions over low heat until caramelized, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Combine cream cheese and goat cheese; spread over prepared crust. Top with the onions, feta, mozzarella and pecans. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes or until cheeses are melted and top is lightly browned. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve hot. Yields 8 slices.

Serving size: 1 slice. Per serving: 341 calories, 11.4 g protein, 21.7 g fat, 24 g carbohydrates, 2.5 g fiber, 367 mg sodium, 31 mg cholesterol.

October 2008 Recipe Contest