Italians start to go crazy this time of year over “the new oil,” pressed from freshly harvested olives. In Wichita Falls, Texas, the new pecan crop generates a similar kind of delight. If you don’t have a pecan tree in your front yard, it’s time to make your way to the Pecan Shed to stock up on crisp, rich-tasting nuts from the Montz family’s nearby orchards. Even in a year like this, when a relentless drought reduced the crop to one quarter the usual size, people just can’t do without pecans.
Some will disappear right away into Thanksgiving pies, cornbread stuffing and sweet potato casseroles, while others are seasoned and toasted to serve during the cocktail hour. Jill Montz, who manages the Pecan Shed, ticks off each variety’s attributes: Pawnee (good eating pecan), Cheyenne (baking), Choctaw (large, easy to shell out, good for toasting), Wichita (most oil and, hence, the most flavor).
My supply usually comes from the Pecan Shed via Aunt Pattie, who lives here–a generous shipment that allows for stashing bags in the freezer for year-round use. But this year I’m on hand to choose my own new-crop pecans and to sample the pecan fudge. There’s cranberry, pumpkin, dark chocolate, sugar-free chocolate and my favorite, caramel-slathered Turtle fudge, all of it made by Hellen Galliton in the Pecan Shed’s Fudge Room. I end up having most of this stuff shipped to myself (you can do the same if you don’t live in a pecan-growing region like Texas or Georgia).
2011’s meager crop will be consumed stateside but in a normal year pecan growers eagerly ship to growing markets in Mexico, the UK and, intriguingly, China. Italy, not so much. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use pecans in Italian cooking. There’s a wonderful recipe for fettuccine with Tuscan kale pesto, equally delicious whether made with walnuts or pecans, in Piatto Unico, And when I last visited my daughter Kate in Brooklyn, pecans added crunch to the leafy base of her delicious Eggs Florentine.
- 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 clove garlic finely chopped
- 4 cups about 4 ounces firmly packed baby spinach
- 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill optional
- 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped pecans lightly toasted
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 English muffins split
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 4 eggs
- Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano optional
In a medium skillet, saute the onion in the olive oil over medium heat until tender but not browned. Stir in the garlic, cooking just until fragrant. Add the spinach. Cook, stirring, until wilted; stir in the dill and pecans. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Toast the English muffins. Meanwhile, melt the butter over medium heat in a medium skillet (preferably nonstick). Break each egg into a different quadrant of the skillet. When the white is mostly coagulated, turn each egg carefully with a spatula. Cook until the white is fully cooked but the yolk is still runny. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Place two toasted muffin halves on each plate. Top each with some of the spinach-pecan mixture and one egg. Sprinkle with cheese.