Now is the time of year when we find ourselves stocking up on holiday-scented candles, fragrant cinnamon sticks, pinecones and potpourri.

I love to create sensory ambience in our home around the holidays, and I have more than my share of these aromatic goods. But none of them have filled our home with the scent of holiday cheer better than the candied nuts we’re featuring today.

This is the season for nuts, and when I walked into our house last week as Tony was preparing this confection for our photo shoot, I was overcome by the heavenly smells emanating from his simple mixture of nuts, sugars and, of course, butter. Seriously, I stopped in my tracks and inhaled deeply, relishing the comfort of the moment.

Candied nuts are practically a staple in our kitchen at Sarello’s, where we often add them to salads and desserts for an extra pop of flavor and texture. We’ve even featured them in a savory dish with a brandied cream sauce over veal or pork scaloppine, which is so good it should almost be outlawed.

Candied nuts make a great addition to a cheese plate and pair well with apple, pear or dried fruits. I’ve used them in baked goods like banana bread and muffins or atop cakes, cupcakes, brownies and ice cream, and have also wrapped them in clear treat bags for party favors or hostess gifts. But, I must confess, my favorite way to enjoy them is simply by the handful. 

There are many ways to make and serve candied nuts, and some of them are very involved, requiring a good deal of time and a multitude of ingredients. But Tony and I always tend to gravitate toward a simpler style of cooking, and I was very pleased by the extreme ease of making these particular candied nuts.

This recipe takes only about 10 minutes from start to finish, and consists of raw, unsalted nuts (Tony prefers walnuts or pecans), brown and white sugars, salt, water, and butter. There are no complicated steps to follow: Simply put all of the ingredients in a mid-sized sauté pan and cook over medium to medium-high heat for five to eight minutes, stirring occasionally.

The water helps prevent the nuts and sugar from burning and will evaporate over several minutes to create a syrupy consistency. To gauge for doneness, look for the mixture to become bubbly, which indicates thickening and the nuts to be evenly coated with a shiny, glossy veneer. Nuts can quickly go from perfect to burnt, so watch them as they cook and remove the pan from the heat while there is still a bit of the sauce remaining.

Transfer the nuts to a baking sheet that has been greased with butter or lined with parchment paper and use a spatula to smooth the nuts into a single layer. Allow the nuts to cool to room temperature before serving.

There are several reasons to love this recipe, notwithstanding its overall taste appeal, and the fact that these candied nuts can be prepared well in advance of using is definitely a plus at this busy time of year.

Tony’s Candied Nuts

Ingredients:

4 cups walnuts or pecans, raw and unsalted

1 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons granulated (white) sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup water

4 tablespoons butter (½ stick)

Directions:

Put all the ingredients in a medium to large sauté pan, and cook over medium to medium-high heat for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

After several minutes, the liquid will reduce and the sauce will become bubbly, which indicates thickening. The nuts are ready when they are evenly coated with a shiny and glossy veneer, and the sauce has reached a syrupy consistency.

Remove pan from heat and transfer nuts to a baking sheet greased with butter or lined with parchment paper. Allow to cool to room temperature before serving.

Storage:

Keep nuts in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

Tony’s Tips:

 

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  • The sugars will heat up significantly as they cook, so be careful as you handle the nuts.
  • To spice things up a bit, add ¼ - ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper to the mixture. 
  • Always store at room temperature, as refrigeration will create moisture and ruin the nuts.
  • Recipe can be doubled or halved.

Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello’s restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 10-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at dine@sarellos.com. All previous recipes can be found at http://thelostitalian.areavoices.com.