Baby almonds, a fleeting treat

May 8th, 2009


Green and fuzzy, the early stages of an almond’s life hold little in common with the adult nuts that we roll into Christmas kringle or Noël gâteaux.  In fact, what can you do with the sour little brats – within a few days, baby almonds go from a viscous gel to a tangy white lozenge that melts on your tongue.  Fragile, edgy, prone to changing character within hours, the green almond is not a volume item in shops.  A small basket of the pale green nuts – if you are lucky to spot one  in the produce cooler – might be found from April to June in Whole Foods Markets, or in the open markets of Provence. In San Francisco last spring about this time, I spotted a basketful in a Ferry Plaza restaurant – but backed up when someone pointed to the “No Photos” sign.  Since the vagabond is not close to green almond venues, and since the four (at last count) almonds clinging to the top of my almond tree are inaccessible, I was most grateful when friends returned from Perpignan with a branch in tow.  Not a laurel branch, but this was a stem loaded with downy-soft green almonds from the windy Roussillon, one of the best French almond regions.


“What will you DO with them?” my friends asked.  I slit one to extract a rather soft ivory almond, popped it in my mouth and puckered up. Maybe ‘tangy’ is too gentle a word for this stage.  This is the almond for tapas tables – I can imagine bowls of them on bars in Barcelona:  shell it, dip into sea salt, then do that again, with a sherry apéro.  So, the green almond lends itself to salty, appetizing tidbits…and to topping seafood tossed with pasta. With a few more almond branches, I would give the mortar and pestle some pesto action, to blend the green almonds with fresh herbs such as tarragon and chives and a few capers stirred with oil and minced aillet garlic. Chefs team green almonds with everything from squid to chilled soups.  Why not try that…a cauliflower soup accented with delicate green almonds?


This recipe, concocted as a foil for the strange little almonds, is a simple vegetable soup:  wash 2 leek whites (about 400 grams) thoroughly, chop, then sauté in a soup pot with 2 tablespoons duck fat or vegetable oil.  When the leeks have cooked about 10 minutes, add 1 cup chopped celery branch with leaves, cook another 5 minutes and add a medium head of cauliflower, (just under 500 grams) trimmed of leaves, and chopped (include the core/stem chopped).  Pour 5 cups of water into the pot, add a bay leaf and 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (add fresh tarragon, too – if you have it) and bring to a simmer. Cook the soup for 30 to 40 minutes until all is soft, add salt, (remove bay leaf) blend to a coarse purée with a blending wand. Taste for seasoning: a chicken bouillon cube and pinch of salt may be added to your taste; if it is too thick add a little white wine or water and cook 10 minutes longer. Let the soup cool, then refrigerate overnight.  Prepare the almond garnish, slitting each almond open, slicing lengthwise (depending on the stage – the gel-center stage is best chopped crosswise).  In a shallow bowl, mix seasalt (such as fleur de sel), ground white pepper and a pinch of Hungarian paprika – toss the shelled almonds in this before serving (not too long in advance or the almonds will ‘weep’).  Serve the soup in small bowls – or in chilled lowball glasses -  topped with the seasoned green almonds.  Or… if it is a cold, rainy spring evening, reheat the soup and serve hot, topped with the baby almonds, and a pair of sesame grissini at each place.  Pour a chilled Montravel white wine, to toast Spring in all its phases.

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