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Bust a Nutmeg

Posted Dec 14 2009 10:19am
This time of year, it’s all about the spices. Cinnamon, cloves, ginger…they all lend major flavor and are what make the seasonal dishes this year feel so, well, seasonal! Nutmeg is one of those spices that I see in winter and Christmas recipes often enough…but I realized I know nothing about!

I came to this realization when I had to use fresh nutmeg in my butternut squash tortelloni, and I had no idea where to even look for it in the store. Was it a root like ginger? Or more like a cinnamon stick? I had no idea.

To begin, I asked one of the lovely associates at Whole Foods, and he directed me to the aisle with all the spices. I was happy it only cost $4 for a pretty big jar of fresh nutmeg.

So, they look and feel exactly like nuts…

…but are actually not nuts at all!

The nutmeg tree actually produces two spices: nutmeg and mace (another on my “wtf is that and how much does it cost?” list). Nutmeg comes from the seed of the fruit, which makes sense — those little things totally feel like a pit. To use nutmeg, you have to grate it. Since I absolutely despise/fear grating, I was not too excited about this, especially because, in my mind, the risk of shredded fingers was high. But, well, what could I do?

I just used a simple cheese grater and went slowly.

I expected to really have to work at it, but it actually grates pretty easily, despite being so hard.

Nutmeg is usually used in sweet, spicy dishes, like pie, pudding, and custard. It also works well with Italian sausage, tomatoes, eggs, broccoli, eggplant, and cheese, which I didn’t expect. (And that’s probably why I keep seeing it in these Italian cookbooks.) This time of year, you’ll see it in a lot of things, but most definitely on top of egg nog!

It has a very distinct flavor; I kept thinking it would be strong and pungent like cinnamon, but it’s definitely sweet and kind of light.

In small doses, nutmeg can ease stomach woes, but it’s kind of interesting because large quantities (like more than one whole nutmeg ground) can actually cause hallucinations, vomiting, and other toxic effects. In researching it, I found a lot of articles on how to get high from nutmeg. Kind of crazy, right?!

Most recipes don’t call for much (probably so you don’t get too loopy) and whole nutmeg keeps for a long time, so I definitely got my money’s worth! Now that I have a whole jar of it, I’ve been using it more. It goes well with pumpkin, so I put it in pumpkin oatmeal (you can also sprinkle it on a pumpkin latte), and I used it in a muffin recipe last week. It’s just a nice thing to have in your pantry, especially this time of year, when all sorts of cookie, pie, and drink recipes include it!

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