If there’s one ingredient I’d love to see more of on our dining plates, it’s chestnuts. Few ingredients celebrate the cold weather and its accompanying comfort food like chestnuts. Just a whiff of roasted chestnuts – even better from a streetside stall – is enough to get anyone’s mouth watering. These earthy, fragrant, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth delights pair equally well with sweet and savoury dishes in Western and Eastern cuisines.
The late autumn months are when chestnuts are harvested but they’re sold well into the deep winter. You’re probably come across the large, fallen round chestnuts in your local park. These horse-chestnuts aren’t edible – but do look gorgeous as seasonal decoration. The edible varieties look smaller and flatter. While foraging for chestnuts in the park or forest, protective head gear is recommended: the falling spiky pods launched from a height of more than 10 metres are likely to cause some serious damage!
Raw chestnuts are available to buy at the markets, fruit & veg shops and some supermarkets. Look for shiny, hard chestnuts with smooth skin and no sign of any hollowness or softness. Score and either boil or roast them and eat whole immediately. Besides the outer shell, the very thin, astringent inner skin needs to be removed before eating. One down side is that preparing raw chestnuts is quite laborious. Thankfully pre-cooked (and peeled!) chestnuts are available in vacuum packs at your local deli or specialty store or in purée form.
The winter kitchen is the perfect celebration of chestnuts: roast pheasant with chestnut filling, chestnut and parsnip soup, chestnut stuffed mushroom, sprouts and chestnuts, chestnut risotto or chestnut and chocolate torte. So if one of your new year’s resolutions is to be more adventurous with your cooking, then chestnuts could be a good starting point. Time to start cooking…
Wishing you all a wonderful 2014, full of delicious, beautiful, seasonal food.