Ina Garten's Almonds Are Just A Little Better Than Yours

When Ina Garten whips up a batch of roasted nuts for enjoying with cocktails or just as a pre-dinner nibble, she doesn't reach for the teardrop-shaped, skin-on California almonds that are so familiar to us in America. In typical Ina fashion, she opts for "good" almonds — in other words, Marcona almonds. In her 2012 cookbook, "Barefoot Contessa Foolproof," Garten admits, "Marcona almonds from Spain are expensive, but they're really worth it." For her thyme-roasted Marcona almonds, she roasts the almonds with olive oil, salt, and fresh thyme until they're golden brown. She then serves them warm with a sprinkle of fleur de sel, a French finishing salt.

It's a simple, quick, yet delicious recipe, all of which describes the heart of Garten's style of cooking and entertaining. She is known for using a mix of homemade and high-quality, store-bought ingredients to make a meal (and a party menu) memorable. These Marcona almonds make a fantastic addition to charcuterie and cheese boards, but be warned, once you try them, you'll probably agree that they put all other kinds of almonds to shame.

How are Marcona almonds prepared?

Marcona almonds are an almond varietal that is only produced in Spain. They are more round and plump than California almonds and are typically sold blanched, so they are not covered in rough, brown skin. While not exactly soft, they are noticeably less firm than other types of almonds and can be described as having a sweet, unique flavor, similar to macadamia nuts. After the almonds have been blanched and the skins have been removed, Marcona almonds are usually fried in oil and sprinkled with salt. When you open a package, you'll notice that the almonds are coated (but not soaking) in oil, which is one of the elements that makes them so incredibly delicious. The oil gives them a rich, almost juicy mouthfeel while still being crunchy.

Even though they've been somewhat cooked and have tons of flavor when you buy them, Garten opts to toast her Marcona almonds in the oven to bring out even more nutty notes, while enhancing the almonds with citrusy-minty thyme leaves. She takes a high-quality almond and puts her unique spin on it, which is so very Ina.

Make copycat Marcona almonds

As Garten said, Marcona almonds are, indeed, expensive and this has to do with the fact that they are imported from a single location (Spain) and considered a gourmet grocery item. The good news is you can make almonds at home that have a similar flavor and feel to Spanish Marconas. All you need to do is follow Garten's lead — but start with unsalted, blanched almonds. By the time you roast them in the oven with oil and salt, you'll have a flavor that evokes that of Marconas. If you can't find blanched almonds, simply boil unsalted California almonds for about a minute in water. This should soften the skin to the point where you can easily peel it off. Once dried, roast the unpeeled almonds with olive oil, salt, and thyme and you'll have a snack that's about as close to Garten's recipe as you can get without using real Marconas.

If you want to make a large batch to keep around for snacking (and why wouldn't you?), store them in a container in a cool, dry area and note that the oil could make them go rancid quicker than plain almonds. To make a fantastic trail mix, leave the thyme out and add the nuts to a mix of walnuts, dried fruit, and chocolate.