If you're anything like me, you were probably sold when you read the first word... anything involving garlic is good in my book! It is in France and Spain that I learnt to love the tradition of having an aperitif before your meal - we tend to do this only when we have friends around for dinner (or lunch, as the case my be). More often than not, I will serve a canape or finger food of sorts, but when I am pressed for time or due to last-minute preparations invite our guests to stand with me in the kitchen, chatting or chopping as required, a bowl of nuts and some olives is a more suitable accompaniment.
Although we are blessed in the UK with a whole variety of nuts and flavourings being widely available (from supermarkets and corner shops to market stalls and mail order) and some of really excellent quality, nothing beats toasting your own nuts adding any condiments you fancy at the time. This "recipe" has become a firm favourite, I am a garlic addict and I have a big, lushy rosemary bush on the veranda by the kitchen window, so it's always at hand. It's no coincidence that I am drawn to these condiments, they do exactly what my body needs: chilli is warming, rosemary is excellent for low blood pressure (which I used to suffer from a lot) and garlic shields off all evil (not only unwanted suitors and vampires, but any type of bacteria, virus, fungus).
And if you thought an aperitif was an excuse to drink yet another glass of alcohol, think again: its origin lies in wanting to fire up your digestive system, which is why traditionally, one would serve bitters - but no matter what you're drinking with it, the rosemary is a great stimulant for your appetite, so tuck right in, you now have medicinal reasons for indulging in the wonderful tradition of aperitifs!
Garlic, rosemary and chilli almonds
10 g butter*
200 g almonds
2 big cloves of garlic (crushed)
1 handful of rosemary leaves
1 tsp coarse sea salt
chilli to taste (depending on where they are on the Scoville scale, I use 0.5 to 1 heaped tsp)
Melt the butter in a cast-iron or stainless steel skillet, add the almonds and stir until they're heated through and starting to brown. Take off the heat and add the condiments, stirring through. The residual heat of the pan should cook the garlic just enough to take off the edge without burning it (which results in a bitter taste).
I like to serve this warm straight out of the pan, but they do keep well in cookie tin or an open kilner jar.
* I used to prefer the taste of olive oil for this purpose, but I do not like to heat vegetable oils in order to avoid transfats, so I have got used to using butter or ghee for this recipe.