On a recent drive from Atlanta to Tybee Island, Georgia, Steven Satterfield skipped Interstate 16 in favor of two-lanes through the middle of the state. “I found myself on winding back roads, surrounded by pecan groves,” says the executive chef and co-owner of Miller Union. “They were so beautiful and elegant.” The detour brought Satterfield back to his childhood in Savannah. “Pecans were often part of entertaining—pecan sandies, pecan pralines, pecan tassies, cheese balls rolled in pecans, and, of course, pecan pie.”
The trees, native to the South and Mexico, were a favorite of colonists in the 1700s—Washington and Jefferson both planted them—and today, nearly half of the United States’ pecan crop comes from Georgia. While you can easily grab a bag anytime at the grocery store, truly fresh pecans (gathered between October and January) are far superior in sweetness. If there isn’t a grove nearby, you can order several fresh bags from Schermer Pecans, a family-run farm in Glennville, where Georgia pecans have been grown and shelled for seventy years. Shelled nuts will keep for three months at room temperature and for up to two years in the freezer. Satterfield adds pecans to salads, grains (especially quinoa and farro), granola, pastries, and pasta fillings and sauces. “I love the sweetness and crunch they add to everything,” he says. Of course, they’re great on their own, too. He recommends roasting pecan halves at 300ºF for ten minutes to really bring out their flavor. Put a generous handful in a ziplock bag and you’ve got the ultimate road-trip snack.
Three Pecan-Packed Recipes
Puree a Pesto
“This pecan sage pesto is delicious on crusty bread with sliced apple and melted Gruyère.”
Place 1 cup roasted pecans, 1 cup Italian parsley leaves, ½ cup sage leaves, 2 small garlic cloves, and ½ tsp. kosher salt in a food processor. Process until everything is combined, scraping down the sides if needed. Add 2 tsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice, ½ tsp. finely grated orange zest, and ½ cup grated Parmesan. Pulse to combine. While processor is on, pour ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil through the chute in a steady stream until fully incorporated. Refrigerate covered for up to a week.
Roast an Appetizer
“Everyone loves candied pecans, but these are really different, with the puffy crunch from egg white and the sweet and aromatic flavors of five-spice powder.”
Preheat oven to 300°F. In a mixing bowl, whisk 1 egg white with 6 tbsp. sugar and ¼ tsp. sea salt until opaque and shiny. Stir in 1 tbsp. five-spice powder. Add 2 cups pecan halves and toss until evenly coated. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with a nonstick silicone mat (or coat well with nonstick spray). Bake until golden, about 15 minutes. Cool, then break up mixture and store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
Make a No-Bake Snack
“I’m a big fan of healthy snacks, and I can really get behind these energy bites with chocolate, dates, and pecans. They are totally addictive.”
Place 1 cup chopped pecans, ¾ cup Medjool dates, ½ cup unsweetened chocolate, ½ cup flaked, dried unsweetened coconut, and a pinch of sea salt in a food processor. Process for several minutes until mixture is well blended, scraping down the sides if needed. Remove dough using a small ice cream scoop and roll into bite-size balls. Place on sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container and refrigerate up to a week.