Night had fallen, and I was trying to get the last few goodies together for holiday gifts. I always wait until the last thing to prepare my famous pecans roasted with rosemary and garlic, so they’ll be fresh, and it was time to roll.
Then I remembered: Last year’s tundra-like winter had killed my giant rosemary bush. Its replacement was still the size of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, and would yield barely a little spoonful of rosemary.
I knew that my next-door neighbor’s bush had died, too. I called the Queen of Pie down the street; no rosemary in her yard. I mentally raced through others who might have a plant, then remembered that I pass on walks a nearby yard that has several rosemary bushes planted conveniently near the street.
I didn’t know the people who lived there. But, remember, it was dark. I seized my kitchen shears and phone, in case of arrest, and crept down the street. No one was walking dogs. The bushes weren’t quite under the street light, giving me cover. I snipped three long stems and speed-walked back to my house, holding the stems in front of me to prevent detection.
I turned on the oven, rinsed the plants and started chopping. Oddly, I didn’t get that rush of aroma that I usually do when chopping rosemary. I bent to the cutting board and sniffed. The stuff smelled more like a pine tree. I tasted a bit and it was like eating floor cleaner. Those plants looked like rosemary, but they sure weren’t.
After washing out the taste with about a gallon of water and rummaging through my spice collection, I came up with an alternative that wouldn’t poison my friends.
I also changed my cooking method for the pecans after consulting my friend Kathleen Purvis’ book “Pecans: A Savor the South Cookbook.” I had always roasted them in the oven, but Purvis writes that pan-roasting on top of the stove can make it easier to control the heat so the nuts don’t burn.
Not-Rosemary Cajun Pecans
2-3 cups pecan halves
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (you can try olive oil for a variation)
2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning, or more if you like (I make my own salt-free Cajun seasoning. The recipe is in my book “Fan Fare: A Playbook of Great Recipes for Tailgating or Watching the Game at Home.”)
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
Salt to taste (Commercial Cajun seasoning blends usually contain salt, often a lot of it, so you may not need more)
Place the pecans in one layer in a large skillet and put over medium heat. Cook, for about 8 minutes, stirring frequently and watching for scorching. When the pecans are fragrant, remove them from the heat. Don’t let them burn. Pour the still-hot pecans into a bowl, add the butter and stir to coat, then stir in the Cajun seasoning, smoked paprika and salt, if needed. Let cool before storing in airtight containers.