- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2007

It’s OK to go a little nutty with desserts this time of the year when summer fruit is a dim memory and you’ve had your fill of apples.

Nuts go so well with butter, sugar, spices and chocolate.

Although most nut types, including almonds and macadamia, are excellent in sweets, pecans and walnuts are my favorites.

I prefer pecans when I want a subtle buttery taste in a dessert. Pecans are wonderful in pies and in cheesecake. Walnuts have a more distinctive herbal flavor and meaty texture that I enjoy in cookies and quick breads.

Whichever nut you choose, here are some tips on getting the best quality.

• Nuts are harvested in the fall and stored in climate-controlled conditions to preserve their freshness.

• Any nut should smell neutral to sweet, not musty.

• The texture should be crisp, not soggy.

• The color of the skin and the size of the nut will vary with the variety. However, skip any package that has a large proportion of discolored nuts.

• Also take a pass on nuts that are shriveled, not plump.

If you want to bring out the rich flavor of nuts, toast them before using. Place the nuts in a single layer in a heavy-bottomed skillet. Heat over low-medium heat for one to five minutes, shaking the skillet frequently, until the nuts turn light golden brown and become aromatic. Remove from the skillet immediately so the nuts don’t continue to brown.

The following recipe was inspired by a dish served at Mulvaney’s Building & Loan, a Sacramento, Calif., restaurant. The dessert was part of a meal featuring walnuts during a program sponsored by the California Walnut Board.

Phyllo and walnut stack

1 sheet phyllo dough

1½ tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

2½ tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts, divided

½ cup ricotta cheese (see note)

Honey

Fold sheet of phyllo dough widthwise in half. Lightly brush a baking sheet with butter and place the folded phyllo on the baking sheet lengthwise in front of you.

Brush again with butter. Combine the cinnamon and sugar. Sprinkle half the cinnamon-sugar on the phyllo dough.

Sprinkle 2 tablespoons walnuts on the bottom half of the phyllo rectangle. Fold the phyllo dough over the nuts to create a smaller rectangle.

Brush the top of the phyllo with the remaining butter. Sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon-sugar and top with the remaining 2 tablespoons walnuts. Using a sharp knife, cut the phyllo stack into 4 equal rectangles.

Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 6 to 9 minutes. The phyllo should be just turning golden brown. Watch carefully because phyllo can easily burn. Remove from oven and set aside. Phyllo will become crisp as it cools.

To assemble, place one phyllo rectangle on each of 2 dessert plates. Spoon 3 tablespoons ricotta cheese on each rectangle. Drizzle lightly with honey, allowing about 2 teaspoons per serving. Cover with remaining phyllo rectangles. Garnish each serving with remaining tablespoon ricotta. Serve immediately. Makes 2 servings.

Note: If available, choose freshly made ricotta. Unless you’re trying to cut calories, opt for a full-fat ricotta, not fat-free, since it has a richer taste.

Bev Bennett is the author of “30-Minute Meals for Dummies” (John Wiley & Sons).

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