When the holidays roll around, I start a production line of homemade foods that I can give as gifts AND serve to guests who come by for cocktails or dinner, or a bash. One favorite evokes the sublime combo I first had in Spain many years ago: chilled bone-dry Manzanilla sherry with roasted Marcona almonds, a deeply-flavored flatish almond that is blanched, roasted with oil, and salted. Since imported Marcona almonds can be difficult to find here fresh, and are often pricey, I devised a “parallel” almond that has many of the same qualities for little work or cost.
The process is simple: I toss blanched whole almonds (available at most supermarkets) with extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt, then roast them slowly until they are golden brown and dried all the way through. I serve them chilled La Gitana sherry, whose flavors of apples, lemons, sea air and almonds marry perfectly with the roasted almonds, as well as other simple Spanish tapas: thinly sliced Serrano ham, chorizo and olives. To give the almonds as a gift, I package them in cello bags or paper-lined boxes along with a 500 ml. bottle of La Gitana, with instructions for serving it chilled. Total cost, about $21.
Check out public radio’s The Splendid Table for my most recent holiday gift ideas, as well as diy food gifts from past years.
Recipe/Method: Tapas Bar Roasted Almonds
Makes about 1 pound; the recipe can be scaled up indefinitely.
1 pound blanched whole almonds, about 2-2/3 cup
2 or 3 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt or flakey sea salt such as Maldon
Preheat the oven to 300° F. Scatter the almonds on a heavy sheet pan. Drizzle with the oil and toss to coat well. Finely crumble the sea salt, sprinkle over the almonds and toss again. Shake the sheet pan to level the almonds into one layer.
Roast the almonds until they are honey colored, 40-45 minutes, rearranging them occasionally with a spatula.
Turn off the oven and leave the door open for 30 seconds to cool it down slightly. Close the door and let the almonds dry out until the oven is completely cool. Pack the almonds into cello bags, tins, jars or wax-paper lined boxes. They will remain crisp for several weeks.