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Here's how to make the best of delicious chestnuts,an unusual ingredient available right here, right now.

07 Nov 2009

Chestnuts resemble large, dark brown hazelnuts encased in a prickly husk or burr. There are usually 1-3 chestnuts per husk. Right at the heart, beneath the husk, shell and inner skin, is a starchy nut. Chestnuts have nothing to do with water chestnuts or horse chestnuts (better known as conkers in the UK).

From March to June we get the Spanish or sweet chestnut, found at specialist fruit and vegetable grocers but most likely to be found on trees in home gardens. You can buy canned chestnuts from supermarkets and sweetened and unsweetened chestnut purée from select delis.

How to choose
A good chestnut has a glossy, undamaged shell and feels heavy for its size. Fresh chestnuts need to be dried to prevent mould forming, but shop-bought chestnuts will usually have been dried already. To dry chestnuts, remove the husk (wearing thick gloves) and either wipe down the shell with a cloth or spread out in the sun until the shell looks dry. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to three weeks.

How to use
The smell of roasting chestnuts from roadside vendors signals the arrival of cold weather in many European cities. They can also be added to stuffing or purée to use in soups or gnocchi. The French make candied chestnuts or marrons glacés, and the Italians created a creamy chestnut dessert called Mont Blanc. Sweetened chestnuts are likened to caramel in taste and go well with chocolate and cream in baking or desserts.

No matter how you cook your chestnuts, they need to be slit from the pointed tip towards the centre to prevent them exploding.
(A craft knife works well).

To boil, place in a saucepan of water.
Then bring to the boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
It is easier to remove the inner skin while they are still warm.
Chestnuts can be pan-roasted over a medium heat, turning occasionally,
for 20 minutes, or in the oven at 200 degrees C for 20 minutes.
Wrap them in a tea towel to keep them warm while peeling.
To peel chestnuts for purée, place in a saucepan of cold water, bring to the boil and cook for a minute before peeling, or place under the grill until the skins split.

To make a savoury purée, simmer the peeled chestnuts in milk, water, stock or a combination of these for 20 minutes, and then purée, using a potato ricer or a food processor.
To make a sweet purée, simmer in a vanilla or cinnamon infused sugar syrup until soft, then purée.

Other Ideas

Make an autumnal soup with parsnips and chestnuts.

Toss roasted, peeled chestnuts through buttery brussel sprouts with crispy bacon.

Boil chestnuts in salted water, peel and eat in front of the TV with a large bottle of ginger beer.

Make a stuffing for roast chicken with chestnuts and porcini mushrooms.

Ten things to do with chestnuts

Potato and chestnuts dauphinois

Water chestnut salad

Apple nut pie

Walnut chocolate brownies

Almond And Marzipan Tartlets

Chestnut stuffing

Water chestnuts with chilli mayonnaise

Braised roast turkey with chestnut stuffing

Almond and sesame brittle

Pistachio and lemon shortbread


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