How to cook: Chestnuts

tuscan style dishes

Hi guys, I hope you had a lovely weekend. I’m coming at you full this frankly freezing cold Monday morning with a selection of fantastic and easy dinner recipes to get you through the week. They’re quick and they centre around a nut (not sure if it’s a nut?) that I knew absolutely nothing about before I moved to Italy. The chestnut! Chestnut season begins now and continues until after Christmas. If you visit any of the country’s biggest cities, you’ll see pretty little carts, where a man is stoking a huge cast iron chestnut roasting pan oven an open fire. Inside hundreds of chestnuts will be popping like popcorn. For about €5, you can get a cone of these fresh from the roasters. Peel back the thick skin and the chestnut is sweet, starchy and deliciously similar to a sweet potato in flavour.

Now you could set up a tent next to one of these vendors and ride out the winter or you can stop at your local supermarket and pick up a bag of fresh chestnuts to roast yourself. Or you can elevate these humble winter treats to another level and try out these amazing chestnut cooking recipes. They’re all Tuscan dishes or at least Tuscan style dishes (I might have made some modifications), so you know they’re delicious – Italian cooking always is!

chestnut soup

Anyone who thinks soup is for suckers hasn’t tried this rich and luxurious chestnut soup. Make extras for a glorious weekday lunch or quick dinner.

fresh chestnuts

350g fresh chestnuts
100g butter
1 celery stalk, chopped
3 golden shallots, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2l chicken stock
1 potato, peeled and coarsely chopped
150g cream

Preheat oven to 180°C. Using a sharp knife, make a cross incision in the base of each chestnut – this stops them from exploding in the oven. Place on a baking tray and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and cover with foil. Leave the chestnuts for 15 minutes and then peel off both skins and roughly chop.

Heat the butter in a non-stick frying pan over high heat. Add the shallots, garlic and celery and sauté until translucent (about 8 minutes). Add the potato, stock and chestnut and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are soft. Puree with a stick blender, season to taste and serve with a drizzle of cream.

chestnut and mushroom risotto

Coined by Giulio, the self-styled risotto king, this winter warmer is easier to make than a traditional risotto, but just as gooey and delicious. Serve with a Vermentino to really knock your friends’ socks off.

authentic italian cooking

200g parboiled rice
18 fresh chestnuts
2-3 fresh porcini mushrooms or any other kind of mushroom
1/2 glass red wine
1 litre hot vegetable stock
sprig of rosemary, finely chopped
1 tbsp butter

It might seem a little strange that Giulio uses parboiled rice for his risotto, but it’s actually very common here in Italy. The Italian risotto standard is a lot more al dente than what you’re used to, so Giulio uses parboiled rice to keep the crunch factor you would otherwise lose with standard arborio rice. Plus it cooks in half the time!

Prepare your chestnuts in the oven, just as you did for the chestnut soup recipe. Peel and chop into chunks with the porcini mushroom and set aside.

Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large casserole dish over high heat. Add the rice and sauté for a few seconds. Pour in the red wine and boil until you can no longer smell the alcohol (6-8 minutes). Add your mushrooms, chestnuts and rosemary and cook, stirring, for two minutes. Now you can start adding your stock. Lower the heat to a simmer, add about two cups of stock to begin with, stir well, cover with the lid and leave to cook for a few minutes. When the stock has been absorbed, add another cupful, stir and cover. Keep doing this until the rice is cooked, but still has a little bite (20 minutes). Add your butter and leave covered for a few minutes before serving.

self-saucing chestnut pudding

As decadent as it sounds, this pudding is perfect for when you want the culinary equivalent of a hug from grandmother, especially if you serve it with whipped cream, liberally spiked with vin santo.

chestnut puree recipes

340g brown sugar
140g butter, softened
2 eggs
100g chestnut puree
225g self-raising flour
65g Dutch-process cocoa
½ tsp baking powder
225ml milk
140g milk chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 180°C.

Beat the butter and 200g of sugar in the bowl of your electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs and chestnut puree and whip to combine. Sift over the flour, 50g of the cocoa and the baking powder and stir to combine. Finally, add the milk and milk chocolate and mix until combined. Pour into six 2-cup capacity ramekins.

Combine the remaining brown sugar and cocoa with 350ml of boiling water, stir until the sugar has dissolved and then pour evenly into the ramekins. Bake for 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Serve with plenty of whipped cream.

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