Pecans are nature's last generous gesture before the frigid arrival of winter. When other tree crops have been exhausted, the pecan harvest is still going on -- in some places, into December.
The pecan is a quintessential American nut. It's native to North and South America; surprisingly, its popularity hasn't spread much beyond there. That might be changing, says Kathleen Purvis, author of "Pecans" (University of North Carolina Press, 2012). "They're becoming very big in China."
Pecans are fresh right now, though possibly not in their usual abundance. "The supply has been very tight the last couple of years," Purvis says, a result of drought and other climactic extremes. But Georgia and Texas, the two biggest pecan-producing states, report improved harvests this year.
For best storage, Purvis says, buy pecans in the shell and crack them out as needed. They'll keep for a year that way. Or shell them, wrap them tightly and stash them in the freezer, where they'll last for years, she says.
Frozen Fruit Salad
12 to 16 servings
One 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
¼ cup maple syrup
1 cup heavy whipping cream
20 ounces canned crushed pineapple, drained
1 ripe but firm banana, cut crosswise into rounds
½ cup chopped dates or dried figs
½ cup dried cherries
½ cup chopped pecans
1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest (no pith)
Lettuce leaves, for serving
Line an 8-inch square pan with plastic wrap.
Use a hand-held mixer to beat the cream cheese and syrup in a medium bowl until well blended and fluffy.
Whip the cream in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held mixer until soft peaks form. Add to the cream cheese mixture and fold to thoroughly combine. Gently fold in the fruits, pecans and lemon zest.
Spoon the mixture into the lined pan. Cover with plastic wrap and aluminum foil and freeze for at least 8 hours or until firm.
To serve, line individual plates with lettuce leaves. Unwrap the frozen salad, cut into portions and place them on the leaves.
Fig and Pecan Tapenade with Goat Cheese
1 cup chopped dried figs
⅓ cup water
⅓ cup chopped pitted black olives
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1½ teaspoons chopped thyme leaves
½ cup chopped toasted pecans*
½ tablespoon chopped green olives (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
Two 5.5-ounce logs soft goat cheese, cut crosswise into ½-inch-thick rounds
Cover figs with the water in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-high. Heat to just below a boil and cook until figs are soft and water has nearly evaporated, adjusting the heat so the water is bubbling gently, about 7 minutes.
Use a slotted spoon to transfer the figs to a medium bowl. Stir in black olives, oil, vinegar, thyme, pecans and the green olives, if using. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Spoon the fig mixture onto a small platter and add rounds of the goat cheese.
*To toast the pecans, spread them on a baking sheet and place in a 350-degree oven, shaking the sheet occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes. Watch carefully; nuts burn quickly.
Wheat Berry Salad with Oranges, Cherries and Pecans
Makes about 5 cups (4 servings)
1 orange, peeled and cut into supremes (see NOTES), juice reserved
1 teaspoon each chopped thyme, sage and rosemary (1 tablespoon total)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon salt, or more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups wheat berries, cooked according to the package directions (to yield about 4 cups) and cooled to room temperature
1 medium red onion, cut in half from top to bottom and thinly sliced
½ cup dried cherries, plus more for garnish
½ cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans, plus more for garnish*
Whisk the juice from the orange, herbs, oil and vinegar in a large bowl to thoroughly combine. Season with the salt and the pepper to taste. Add the wheat berries, onion, cherries, pecans and orange segments, and toss to combine. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed.
Transfer to a serving bowl or to individual plates and garnish with additional cherries and pecans, if desired.
*To cut the orange into supremes, slice off the bottom and the top. Stand the fruit on a cutting board with one of the cut sides down. Use a serrated knife to cut the peel and the pith away from the fruit, top to bottom, exposing the flesh. Then, holding the fruit in your hand, cut the orange segments away from the membrane. (The idea is to leave behind all of the membrane and white pith.)
To toast the pecans, spread them on a baking sheet and place in a 350-degree oven, shaking the sheet occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes. Watch carefully; nuts burn quickly.
Cider-Braised Cabbage with Apples and Pecans
Makes about 12 cups (8 servings)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, halved from top to bottom and thinly sliced
½ cup apple cider (sweet or hard cider)
1 medium red cabbage, quartered, cored and shredded (about 12 cups)
2 large crisp apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
½ cup pecan halves or pieces
Heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until softened and slightly browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in the cider, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
Stir in the cabbage, apples, sugar, salt and pepper. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is barely tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the vinegar and cook, stirring, until most of the liquid boils away. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Top with the pecans and serve warm.
Per serving: 180 calories, 3 g protein, 21 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 520 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 13 g sugar.
Pecan-Crusted Cod with Rosemary
4 to 6 servings
The pecan crust mixture can be made several hours in advance and held at cool room temperature, or made up to one month in advance, sealed in an airtight container and frozen. The Mustard Sauce can be made a day in advance, covered and refrigerated.
For the cod
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ medium Vidalia onion, or other sweet onion, coarsely chopped (½ cup)
1¼ teaspoons salt, plus a pinch
¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus a pinch
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 cups pecans
1 cup panko bread crumbs
7 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary
2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
¼ cup parsley leaves
4 to 6 cod fillets, 6 to 8 ounces each
For the mustard sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons cold water
¾ cup chicken broth or water
2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
2 tablespoons stone-ground or coarse-grain mustard
1 tablespoon honey
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
For the cod: Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have ready a baking dish large enough to hold all of the fillets in one layer, and a rack that fits into the baking dish.
Heat the olive oil in a small skillet or saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions, a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper and cook for 5 or 6 minutes, until they soften, stirring frequently so they don’t color or stick. Add the mustard, stir to coat the onions and remove from the heat.
Place the pecans and bread crumbs in the bowl of a food processor and pulse for 15 seconds or until they form a fine meal. Add the butter, the onion-mustard mixture, rosemary, Old Bay, parsley, ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper. Pulse for 15 to 20 seconds, until the mixture has a soft, pebbly texture.
Blot the fish with a paper towel to remove excess moisture. Season on both sides with the remaining ¾ teaspoon of salt and remaining ½ teaspoon of pepper.
Use your hands to top the fish with a thick layer of the pecan mixture, about 2 tablespoons for each fillet. (You want to pat it on as if you were making a sand castle.) Lay the fillets on the rack and place the rack in the baking dish. Bake for about 12 minutes, until there’s some bounce-back to the touch and a fork or knife will go in easily and will feel warm when inserted in the center; or until the temperature at the center measures 115 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. The baking time could be shorter or longer, depending on the thickness of your fillets. Serve immediately, accompanied with Mustard Sauce, if desired.
For the Mustard Sauce: Stir the cornstarch and water together in a small bowl to combine.
Heat the broth in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once it boils, give the cornstarch mixture a good stir. Begin to whisk the broth as you drizzle in the cornstarch mixture. Once you have added all of the cornstarch mixture, reduce the heat to low and continue whisking to achieve a smooth mixture. Cook for about 2 minutes, adjusting the heat so the mixture is barely bubbling, until the liquid thickens.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the mustards and honey, whisking to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm.
Per serving (based on 6, using half the pecan crust): 320 calories, 23 g protein, 7 g carbohydrates, 23 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 65 mg cholesterol, 580 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar.