Walnuts with Parmesan are a hallowed, but never palling, coupling of tastes. In Emilia-Romagna, while waiting for the first course to arrive, a platter of shelled walnuts with slivers of tender, young Parmesan may be passed around to soothe impatient appetites. It is likely to be washed down with a fresh, prickly white wine. The order is sometimes reversed, the offering coming at the end rather than at the beginning of the meal. Then, with the nuts, one might serve an older, firmer, more savory Parmesan and finish off with it the last glass of the deepest, most complex red served with dinner.
It occurred to me that binding the two ingredients would make an elegant and tasty biteful to serve with an apéritif before going to the table. I grated the cheese and added just enough butter to hold the mixture together, with a little basil to contribute a cool, fresh accent.
For convenience’s sake you can use shelled walnuts. If you take the trouble to shell them yourself they may taste fresher. The trick in shelling walnuts without breaking the meat into bits is one I learned in Sorrento, where the sweetest, thin-shelled walnuts come from. Put away the nutcracker; stand the walnut on its rounded base, its pointed end facing up, and give the pointy tip a few sharp raps with a heavy knife handle or similar object. When the shell begins to crack, pry it apart and extract the meat whole, or in two separate halves.
Serve with a glass of dry sparkling wine or other apéritifs before dinner or at other suitable times outside meals.
© 1986 Marcella Hazan estate. All rights reserved.