Chestnuts are traditionally given a special place at the Christmas table. These shiny brown nuts are delicious boiled or roasted – always split the hard skin first to stop them exploding while cooking – and eaten on their own. They are also good puréed and served as a side dish or mixed into stuffings. Tossed with freshly cooked Brussels sprouts, a knob of butter and freshly ground black pepper, they make one of the best vegetable dishes on the winter menu.
In southern Europe, they have a long culinary history, being used in breads, cakes and sweetmeats and to make a type of flour. Chestnuts have a natural affinity with chocolate and you will find many recipes for rich chocolate desserts, ice creams and cakes that include them.
Most recipes for chestnuts require them to be cooked and peeled, and although this is simple to do, you can buy ready-prepared chestnuts in cans or vacuum packs. These also have the advantage of being available at any time of the year.
Chestnut and hazelnut roast
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
225g/8oz mushrooms, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
225g/8oz chestnuts, cooked, peeled and finely chopped
85g/3oz white breadcrumbs
pinch of dried thyme
4 tbsp vegetable stock
juice of 1⁄2 lemon
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Grease a 900g/2lb loaf tin and line the base with greaseproof paper.
- Put the hazelnuts in a food processor and process briefly to chop finely, but avoid grinding to a smooth powder. Set aside.
- Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion and garlic and gently fry for about 5 minutes, until tender. Add the mushrooms, sprinkle with a little salt and cook gently for about 10 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender and most of the liquid has evaporated. They should be moist, but not wet.
- Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the hazelnuts, chestnuts, breadcrumbs, thyme, stock and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
- Press the mixture into the loaf tin and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, until golden.
- Leave the roast to stand for about 5 minutes, then very carefully invert on to a board or serving platter, cut into slices and serve.
Available from Nourish Books
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