Nutmeg, the healthy spice that takes a back seat to your everyday spices for much of the year, comes out swinging during the holidays. This seemingly seasonal spice is used to flavor cookies, cakes and pumpkin pie, as well as soups, sauces and squash dishes and has dusted many a cup of hot chocolate, coffee and eggnog.
This egg-shaped seed from an evergreen tree (indigenous to the Spice Islands), takes 7-9 years to produce its first harvest and nearly 20 years to reach full production. This is the only tropical fruit that is the source of two different spices. Nutmeg is the seed and mace, which has a slightly more delicate flavor, is made from the dried red membrane that covers the seed.
Fresh nutmeg is stronger and significantly more aromatic than the pre-ground powdered stuff so you might want to use a little less than what the recipe calls for (3/4 teaspoon instead of 1 teaspoon).
Grating is easy, as you do not need to peel, toast or cut the whole seed. Simply use a microplane (or the smallest holes of a cheese grater) and rub the whole nutmeg across the grater’s surface. As you grate the seed, a lovely lace pattern is exposed rewarding you with an incredible burst of nutmeg aroma and flavor.
Each time I visit Italy I shop in the local markets and bring home jars of spices (and many other favorite foods). I love the little jars of noce moscata (nutmeg) because they have a small nutmeg grater in the jar and make perfect stocking-stuffers.
If you can’t find the little jars you could make your own. This photo is one a reader came up with. Very cute!