Lugs and lugs of freshly harvested Price almonds at Chris Hays’ farmers’ market stand a few Saturdays ago set me off and running on the topic of almonds.
So many ways to use them, from simple to complex, savory or sweet, as a background note or featured in a dish. Coming up will be recipes for Flourless Almond Cake and then Lamb and Almond Meatballs. But first, you have to prepare the almonds.
There are 3 layers of peelings to go through before you get to the rich and unctuous almond meat. Since these Price almonds are “softshell”, the outside hull obligingly opens up as the fruit ripens (yes, almonds are a fruit, a drupe fruit like peaches and apricots and bunches of other familiar edibles. The opened out hull is actually dried fruit), so usually you can easily pry away the first layer with your fingers. Then there’s the inner shell, more or less hard depending on the variety of almond, which does require cracking with a nutcracker or hammer or some such. Finally, there’s the skin, which, for elegance, is best removed, especially for sauces and sweets, though for just munching, unpeeled is fine. All this leaves the cook with a mere fraction of volume compared to what was harvested or purchased. Shades of fava beans. But, oh the joy…
1 pound almonds in their hulls yields about 2 ounces (1/2 to 2/3 cup) shelled almonds
To blanch almonds: Place shelled almonds in a bowl and pour boiling water to cover over them. Let steep for 2 minutes. Drain, rinse under cool water, and peel. The almonds slip easily out of their skins when pinched between thumb and forefinger. For recalcitrant ones, use a fingernail or paring knife to make a small slit in the skin, then peel away.
To toast almonds: Spread the blanched almonds in a single layer (crowding is okay) on a rimmed baking sheet and place in a preheated 325º F oven and cook until lightly golden, 10 to 15 minutes.