Cooking with Chestnuts begins with researching how to eat and cook with Sweet Chestnuts. I have come across all sorts of articles and facts, so before we get to the recipes, here are some important points about choosing, preparing and cooking your Sweet Chestnuts, and interesting ideas on what to do with them. With thanks to The Epicurean Table, Dulcima at BBC Good Food, and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall.
Hugh wrote a few tips about these luscious nuts in an article about foraging, The Epicurean Table gave me a lot of European ideas and Dulcima at BBC Good Food had lots of general information on Sweet Chestnuts, so I’ve put together all these and other information that I have gleaned. But whether you forage or grow your own, the same rules apply.
- Never, ever confuse Sweet Chestnuts with Horse Chestnuts – the latter being inedible.
- To use the nuts in cooking, look for glossy, firm nuts. They should feel heavy – if they feel light they are drying out inside.
- The Sweet Chestnut tree has long leaves and catkins in the summer whereas the Horse Chestnut Tree has smaller wide leaves.
- And there is a big difference in the outer cases – Sweet Chestnuts have long hairspikes (probably to prevent squirrels getting to the nuts), but the Horse Chestnuts have much shorter spikes.
- From the start of October, search under the leaves for the fallen nuts. If they are left on the ground, they deteriorate quickly.
- If any are splits, or have small holes, throw them away.
- If you want to keep some for Christmas, to roast over the flames or make stuffings or cakes, you can blanch the nuts then freeze them. Add nuts to a large pan of boiling water, bring back to a rolling boil for 5 mins then drain and refresh in cold water for a few minutes.
- Peeling straight away means that the skins come off easily.
- The Epicurean Table has a lot of tips for using Sweet Chestnuts:
- If you want to use the Sweet Chestnuts in recipes straight away, cut a cross or a slash in them, place in a pan of water and bring to the boil. Simmer gently for ¾ mins only. Remove from the heat and rest then for a minute. Remove from water and work the shell off. Replace shelled chestnuts back into the hot water until you are ready to remove the membrane that most likely did not come off with the shell. If the water has cooled, bring it back to the boil, then remove the nuts. Drain well, and fry in a little oil until the membrane is crisp and easy to remove by rubbing between the hands. Now you can get on with cooking them.
- Never overcook or chestnuts will just crumble.After roasting, the nuts can be crushed or ground in your food processor to a fine powder, and used in baking as Chestnut flour, which is gluten free. Chestnut Flour can be bought, from specialty food shops or on your Italian holiday, but it doesn’t last for long. It must be stored in your fridge, and used within a month. It is great for thickening sauces, soups and gravies, also to bake with in breads, luscious cakes and puddings and can be made into a type of Porridge from Corsica, called Ferinana.
- If you want the Chestnuts for roasting try and hang them in string bags so that they have the air flowing around them, this stops them from getting damp and mouldy.
- To roast straight away, make a small nick in the bottom of the nut. It will open up when cooking and you can peel off that inner skin. Italians (and me) like to pour over a little wine or grappa which brings out the chestnut flavor.
- Hugh suggests that Sweet Chestnuts are “ excellent in burgers, and go wonderfully well with game and stronger meats. Mixing ground meat with a mixture of finely and roughly chopped chestnuts gives a variety of texture.
- To avoid dry burgers, add ground roasted meat to the chestnuts along with onions, herbs, meat juices and an egg to bind.
- Chestnuts are also excellent in a stuffing for any meat. For a vegetarian treat, apples stuffed with chestnuts and rice are delicious. Perfectly peeled chestnuts can be made into Marron Glace, and less perfect ones, sweet chestnut puree.”
Right. That’s enough about facts, figures and information about Sweet Chestnuts. Now it really is time for Cooking with Chestnuts – time for some recipes! At long last, did you say?
This sounds an easy recipe to make, and delicious to eat. It is from Tom Norrington-Davies and appeared in delicious magazine. It would be fabulous with a scoop of rich Vanilla ice-cream, or some juicy fresh raspberries.
- 300 g cooked chestnuts, either fresh or ready to use such as Merchant Gourmet
- 300 g bitter dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids)
- 250 g unsalted butter, softened
- 200 g golden icing sugar, plus extra to dust
- Cocoa powder, to dust
- Put the chestnuts in a food processor and whizz to finely grind. Set aside.
- Lightly wet a 900 g loaf tin or 20cm round cake tin with a little water, then line with cling film, smoothing out any creases.
- TIP: This couldn't be easier, especially if you use vacuum-packed chestnuts. It is rich and slightly sweeter than some chocolate desserts.
- Melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water - don't let the water touch the chocolate bowl. Stir it as little as possible (as it is easy to overwork very dark chocolate). Remove from heat and set aside.
- In a separate bowl, beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the melted chocolate and the chestnuts to this mix and stir to combine. Pour into loaf or cake tin. Set in the fridge overnight.
- To cut the torte, invert onto a plate and remove the cling film. Dust with icing sugar and cocoa to serve. Dip the knife in hot water between slices.
This second recipe is for a Chestnut and Mushroom Soup, taken from the Woman and Home magazine. I first tasted Chestnut and Mushroom Soup when I worked at The Aga Shop in Beverley, and one of our demonstrators cooked it for an evening demonstration. It tasted so fabulous, earthy, rich and smooth, but unfortunately I lost my tacky bit of paper with the recipe on. So I am looking forward to making this one, which is extra special because it uses Porcini mushrooms.
This soup, from Woman and Home magazine, sound rich and earthy, so I can't wait to try it. As mentioned, it is a good soup to freeze, and worthwhile getting into the freezer to tide you over the busy Christmas weeks. It would be great for a special dinner party starter as well.
- 10 g (1/4 oz) dried porcini mushrooms
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 100 g (4 oz) chestnut mushrooms, chopped
- 200 g (7 oz) cooked and peeled whole chestnuts (they used Merchant Gourmet)
- 1 tsp thyme leaves, chopped
- 1.5 litres (2 3/4 pt) vegetable stock
- For the topping:
- 15 g (1/2 oz) butter
- 290 g jar marinated mushrooms (they used Sacla' Wild Mushrooms Antipasto
- handful parsley, chopped
- a little cream, to drizzle
- Soak the porcini mushrooms according to the pack instructions. Meanwhile heat the oil in a large, heavy based pan and cook the onion and carrot until softened. Add the porcini and chestnut mushrooms, chestnuts and thyme and cook gently for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add the stock and cook for a further 15 minutes. Whizz in a blender, then return to the pan. You can freeze the soup at this point.
- Heat the butter in a frying pan and add the marinated mushrooms, cooking until golden. Scatter over the soup with the parsley and a drizzle of cream, and serve.
Well, I think for now that concludes the Sweet Chestnut ‘saga’. But I have searched for lots of recipes using Sweet Chestnuts, whether fresh or ready to use, and for both savory and sweet dishes, and in the coming weeks these will be appearing on the blog, so, if you’re like me and slightly fascinated by such an ancient nut, keep looking out for lots of Cooking with Chestnut Recipes. I hope you enjoy them.