Why do recipes call for toasted nuts? And how do I toast them? —M.R., Oak Forest, Illinois
Nuts are naturally high in fat. Toasting them intensifies the flavor so much that you can often cut down on the amount of nuts used and still end up with a very tasty dish. Toasting nuts may also give them a prettier appearance, which can be especially desirable when they are topping food dishes. Basically, there are three ways to toast nuts. The first is the stovetop method. Because of the nuts' high-fat content, you won't need to add oil to the skillet. Simply heat the dry skillet until hot, then pour the nuts in and spread out in a single layer. Stir frequently to keep the nuts from turning too brown. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes. I've also toasted nuts in the oven. Begin by preheating the oven to 350°. Place nuts in a single layer in a shallow baking pan. Bake the nuts for about 10 minutes, being sure to stir or shake them about halfway through the baking time. And lastly, you can use your microwave to toast nuts. Place nuts in a microwave-safe dish. Microwave, uncovered, on high for 2-3 minutes or until lightly toasted, stirring twice. Watch carefully to avoid burning the nuts. You may need to adjust the time, depending on your microwave's wattage and the amount of nuts you are toasting.