I name this salad in honour of the Oregon hazelnut.
I had been to Portland before, but our trip last week opened my eyes to the abundance of hazelnuts growing around the city. On our first day exploring the vineyards in the nearby Willamette Valley, we spotted stands of hazelnut trees nudged up to the grape vines.
I have a long history with hazelnut trees, because it was my job as a child to gather all the hazelnuts under both our trees. (Not to mention walnuts, cherries, plums, peaches, apples, raspberries and currants. I was a hardworking child.)
So, once I reacquainted myself with the hazelnut tree in the Willamette Valley, I suddenly started seeing them everywhere around Portland.
I was going to ask the rhetorical question: does Oregon have a state nut and is it the hazelnut?
But it is not a rhetorical question! I looked it up, and yes, Oregon declared the hazelnut to be its state nut in 1989. So there you go.
This means, of course, that Oregonians like to eat hazelnuts. I think we had them with almost every meal. I wasn’t complaining.
One lovely way I encountered them was in a lightly dressed salad at Tina’s in Dundee, about an hour outside of Portland.
It was the heart of simplicity: just a few very good ingredients. In this case, roasted hazelnuts with delicate spring lettuce and a light vinaigratte. The hazelnuts gave a light crunch beside the soft new lettuce. The vinaigrette was flavourful but unassuming, with tiny bits of shallot and parmesan almost melting into the lettuce leaf.
I am starting to believe that the better the salad the smaller the ingredient list. Because, if the lettuce and one other ingredient (say, hazelnuts) are perfect, then you won’t want anything else.
This weekend, I set about recreating that salad with Island lettuce, hazelnuts, parmesan and shallots. It seems I am incapable of creating a mild vinaigrette – probably due to my deep love of vinegar – but this dressing comes close to the Tina’s version. I used an immersion blender to whir in the parmesan, but you could just grate it finely.
After eating this salad for two evenings, we ran out of spring lettuce. I am now happy to report the vinaigrette works very well dribbled over poached salmon and steamed asparagus. But I did miss the hazelnuts.
oregon hazelnut salad
2 tbsp. white wine vinegar (red would probably also work)
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed
2 tbsp. parmesan, grated finely
2 tbsp. shallot, minced
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Roast the hazelnuts in a small pan until they are slightly golden, about 7 minutes. Watch them carefully, as they move over to burning quickly. Remove them from the oven. If you like, take a clean tea towel and rub them gently to take off some of their brown skin. Set aside.
Macerate the shallots in the vinegar for 15 minutes. (This will help them soften and share flavours with the vinegar.) Strain the shallots out, keeping both the vinegar and the shallots.
Mix the vinegar, oils and parmesan together. Use an immersion blender if you really want the parmesan to break down. Stir in the shallots. Taste and add salt and pepper.
When you’re ready to eat, toss the lettuce with the vinaigrette. Drop in the hazelnuts. Serve immediately.