Nut oils can contribute rich, luxurious undertones to food — they add a special touch that really elevates a dish. Oils such as walnut, hazelnut, pistachio, almond, and sesame are a familiar sight on supermarket shelves (near the olive oil), but some people may be unsure about how to use them. More often than not, nut oil is used to finish a dish, as you might drizzle extra-virgin olive oil over a serving of pasta for an extra punch of flavor, sheen, and silky texture.
I consider walnut oil, which these recipes feature, the gateway nut oil because it is generally the most familiar and least expensive of its kind. Treat yourself to a bottle and bring an extra level of nuttiness to the holidays.
Double Walnut Green Beans With Dill and Chives
Makes about 8 cups
Snip dill (rather than chopping it) to create small pieces that show the herb’s frilly structure, and which look pretty on the beans. If you substitute thinner haricots verts for green beans, reduce the cooking time.
Salt and pepper
2 pounds fresh green beans, ends trimmed
1½ tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons walnut oil
½ cup chopped toasted walnuts
3 tablespoons minced fresh chives
1/3 cup snipped fresh dill
Place a colander in the sink. Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside. In a Dutch oven over high heat, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add 2 teaspoons salt and the beans, and cook until beans are tender-crisp, 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the thickness and age of the beans. Working quickly, drain the beans in the colander and immediately dump them into ice water to stop the cooking. Drain them again and dry well.
Dry the Dutch oven, add the butter, and melt it over medium-high heat. Add the beans and cook, tossing constantly, until warmed through, about 2 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of the walnut oil and continue to cook, tossing the beans to coat and barely warming the oil, about 1 minute longer. Off heat, add ½ teaspoon salt, pepper to taste, and most of the walnuts, chives, and dill, and toss to distribute. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. Scrape the beans into a warmed serving dish, drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon walnut oil, sprinkle with the remaining walnuts, chives, and dill, and serve at once.
TIP: STORING NUT OILS
Ricotta, Leek, and Walnut Dip
Makes about 3½ cups
Endive leaves make great dippers, or you could serve this dip on crostini, garnished with chopped walnuts and minced chives. I also like this as an omelet filling.
2 cups (1 pound) ricotta (whole milk or part skim)
1½ tablespoons butter
1 pound leeks (1 to 3 medium), white and light green parts only, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced (about 3½ cups)
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon pressed or grated garlic (about 1 large clove)
3 tablespoons walnut oil, plus more for drizzling
2/3 cup finely chopped toasted walnuts
1/3 cup minced fresh chives
Line a plate with a double thickness of paper towels, place the ricotta on one side, cover it with the other side of the towels, and gently press to absorb moisture. Repeat with fresh paper towels and set aside to wick away excess moisture while preparing the leeks.
In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter, tilting the pot to cover the cooking surface. Add the leeks and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, until the leeks begin to soften, about 4 minutes. Adjust heat to medium-low, cover, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the leeks have softened fully and released their juices, about 8 minutes longer. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 40 seconds. Scrape leek mixture into a medium bowl and cool to room temperature. You should have about 1½ cups.
Add reserved ricotta, 3 tablespoons walnut oil, most of the walnuts and chives, ¾ teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Beat until mixture is uniform, stopping to scrape down the bowl as necessary. Cover and refrigerate to meld the flavors and allow the consistency to firm up slightly, about 1½ hours.
Rest the dip at room temperature for a few minutes to lose its chill; adjust seasoning with additional salt and pepper if necessary. Drizzle with a little walnut oil, sprinkle with the remaining walnuts and chives, and serve.
Simple Walnut Oil Vinaigrette
Makes about 1/3 cup
I particularly like the mild acidity and subtle sweetness of rice vinegar with walnut oil. Make sure to use plain rice vinegar, not seasoned, which contains salt and sugar. Champagne vinegar is also a nice choice. The small amount of mustard in the vinaigrette aids with emulsification.
If I make vinaigrette in advance, I generally use a small jar, both for easy storage and so I can shake it hard to reblend it before serving. If making a salad with it right away, I prepare the vinaigrette in a large bowl so I can simply add the salad ingredients and toss.
This nutty vinaigrette works well with just about any type of greens, from mild to bitter. Include standard salad ingredients plus anything else you like that tastes good with walnuts— goat cheese, blue cheese, Parmesan, beets, apples, pears, grapes, roasted Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, parsnips, or turnips.
1 tablespoon plain rice vinegar
2 tablespoons minced shallot (1 very small or ½ medium)
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
¼ cup walnut oil
In a jar with a lid, combine the vinegar, shallot, mustard, ½ teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste, cover, and shake vigorously to dissolve the salt and blend. Add the oil, cover, and shake vigorously to blend. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. Shake well to reblend before using, or serve at once. Store covered jar in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Adam Ried appears regularly on America’s Test Kitchen. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Get the best of the magazine’s award-winning stories and features right in your e-mail inbox every Sunday. Sign up here.