Thursday, January 6, 2011

Hazelnut-crusted Tilapia with Lemon Basil Cream Sauce and Italian-style Green Beans

The other night Lee and I went to Carrabba's with friends, and I ordered the Trout Nocciola...trout crusted in hazelnuts and served with a lemon and basil butter cream sauce. On the side, I had Italian-style green beans. It was delicious. Lee had spaghetti with Italian sausage, but he kept stealing bites of my trout, so I decided to attempt the dish at home the next day for dinner. I substituted tilapia for trout because it was less expensive. I'll go ahead and tell you that it was a success!

The most difficult and frustrating part of the meal was preparing the hazelnuts. I went ahead and popped open the wine to help get me through it. This was the first time I've cooked with hazelnuts, and I did not anticipate them being so much trouble. I love hazelnuts, so it was well worth it.

First, I had to shell the darn things. The only type of nutcracker I own is for pecans, and it wasn't up to the task, so I pulled out the meat pounder. It worked well. I wound up placing the nuts right onto the countertop, and if I hit them with just the right force and at a slight angle, they would open up leaving a beautiful intact hazelnut. Be prepared for a mess if you try this. Hazelnuts were flying everywhere. The dogs and the cat quite enjoyed it.

After shelling them, I had to remove the thin, paperlike skins. I saw online that toasting them in the oven for 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees F was the key, so that's what I did. This releases some of their oil and gives them a great flavor too. After they came out of the oven, I used a kitchen towel to rub off the skins. Most of them came off easily, while a few didn't budge. If there was just a tiny bit of skin on one, I just scraped it off using my nails under the towel.

I pulled out the meat pounder again to crush them. I placed a few hazelnuts in the towel to keep them from flying off and pounded away. After a few pounds, I placed the nuts on a wooden cutting board and just pressed firmly with the meat pounder to achieve a finer consistency. Whew!

The wine I chose for tonight was Orvieto Classico. Orvieto is located in Umbria, which is adjacent to Tuscany. It was located among the Pinot Grigios, which was what I initially had in mind, but I decided to try something new. It was alright, but I think I prefer Pinot Grigio.

After I got the hazelnuts ready, I started making the sauce. I'm pretty handy with sauces, so this was a snap. Here's what I did:

Lemon Basil Cream Sauce

2 tbs salted butter

1-1 1/2 tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tbs vegetable stock (chicken stock or broth would work well also, I just had some leftover veggie stock handy)

1-1 1/2 tbs white wine

freshly ground black pepper to taste (optional...I add black pepper to everything)

1/2 tsp garlic, minced

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1-2 tsp lemon zest

1-2 tbs fresh basil leaves, torn

Melt the butter in a small pot over medium heat till slightly golden brown. Add the lemon juice, vegetable stock, wine, black pepper and garlic and cook on medium-low for 10-15 minutes or until reduced by about half. Whisk in cream until combined and reduce heat. Add lemon zest and stir. Sauce will thicken somewhat after it starts to cool. If it isn't as thick as you would like, you can thicken it up by first mixing some cornstarch or arrowroot (my favorite sauce thickener) with cool water and adding it to the sauce. If you add a thickener, bring the sauce back to a boil, and then reduce it again.

Add the basil to the sauce right before serving or just place it on top of the sauce when you plate (that's what I did). Since I still had to cook the fish and green beans, I left the sauce on the lowest setting to keep it warm.

(Serves 2-4)

Hazelnut-Crusted Tilapia

2-3 tbs extra virgin olive oil

1/2-3/4 cups toasted and crushed hazelnuts

1/2 cup panko (optional)

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 egg white, whipped slightly

2 tilapia filets

1-2 roma tomatoes, seeded and cut into strips or chunks

Heat a medium-large size pan with lid on medium-high heat and add oil.

Dip fish into egg white and then into hazelnut/panko mixture, pressing so that it sticks. Place tomatoes into oil and stir. Add coated fish to pan and brown both sides. Reduce heat to medium or medium-low. Stir tomatoes and cover with lid. Cook for 5-10 minutes until fish is opaque throughout.

***I had to add additional oil to the pan, so next time I plan on adding some oil directly to the coated fish before placing in the pan.***

Serve fish hot covered with 1-2 tbs Lemon Basil Cream Sauce.

(Serves 2)

Italian-style Green Beans

1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

1 handful thin, French-style green beans (I buy them prewashed in bags)

1-2 roma tomatoes, seeded and roughly sliced or chopped

1-2 cloves pickled garlic, thinly sliced (use regular garlic if you don't have pickled)

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1/2 tbs or so balsamic vinegar (or other vinegar such as red wine vinegar)

1-3 tbs water, depending on how tender you like your green beans

Heat oil in medium-sized pan over medium to medium-high heat. Add beans, tomatoes, garlic, and salt and pepper. Heat for 1-2 minutes, tossing occasionally. Add vinegar to deglaze pan and stir. Add water and cover with a lid, but leave it cracked just a bit so it steams. Cook until desired tenderness and serve hot or even at room temperature.

(Serves 2)

***I usually steam my green beans in the microwave, but we have been without one for several months. We are getting one built in over the stove, but it is requiring custom cabinetry, so it has become a much bigger project than anticipated. Heating up leftovers isn't as quick without one.***

This turned out to be a delicious meal worthy of serving to guests. The next time I make it I'm going to try to lighten it up a bit by omitting the cream and making a broth and wine-based sauce instead. I'll let you know how it goes.


  1. Can I come to your house for dinner? That looks amazing!!!

  2. I have made this twice now and both times came out beautifully!!! I love the sauce as well. How did making a broth and wine based sauce go? Do you have a recipe for that?