There's nothing quite like delicious roast chestnuts at Christmas time - whether you're going to use them to make stuffing, or eat them on their own, they make a delicious addition to a festive feast.
Chestnuts have to be cooked before they can be eaten, the outer reddish brown skin is quite leathery and can’t just be cracked off like other nuts. To remove the skin they can be roasted in the oven, grilled or boiled in a pan for a few minutes. The skin can then be peeled off to reveal the inner kernel. Between the outer skin and the pale kernel there is a thin brown inner skin which also needs to be removed.
If boiling chestnuts, only cook a few at a time because as they cool down the skin will be harder to remove. When cooked chestnuts have a delicious sweet flavour and tender floury texture which goes well in both savoury and sweet dishes.
For a winter snack there’s nothing nicer than hot chestnuts straight from being roasted on an open fire, peeling off the blackened skin and sprinkling the sweet inner flesh with a little salt and eating them while still warm.
Cooked, peeled chestnuts are also delicious tossed with Brussels sprouts to serve on Christmas Day, or chop and use them in a tasty stuffing with sausagemeat and herbs to go with turkey, pork, chicken and game birds such as pheasant.
Peeled chestnuts fried in a little butter add a lovely flavour and texture to a rich beef or venison casserole when added just before serving.
For desserts they can be cooked and pureed and mixed with melted chocolate and cream to make a rich filling or icing for cakes and meringues.
If using chestnuts in recipes they will need to be cooked after the skin has been removed. Simply simmer them in stock or water (or milk for sweet dishes) until tender, this will take about 30 mins, then drain.
When buying fresh chestnuts, choose ones that feel heavy for their size and are firm to the touch. 450g of fresh chestnuts will yield about 350g when peeled. Frozen peeled chestnuts (available from Waitrose) or vacuum packed ones are a great time saver if you don’t have time to peel fresh ones.
Sweetened puree is available in cans and dried chestnuts, which need to be soaked before using, are useful for adding to soups.
Chestnut & Pancetta Stuffing
Fry 1 chopped onion and 75g chopped pancetta or streaky bacon in 1tbsp olive oil until the onion is soft. Remove from the heat and add 250g peeled and cooked chestnuts, 100g fresh white breadcrumbs and 4tbsp parsley. Stir in 1 beaten egg and season. Shape into balls or press into a greased shallow baking dish. Bake at 180°C/350°F/Fan 160°C/Gas Mark 4 for 30 mins.
Chestnut Stuffed Mushrooms
Make the chestnut and pancetta stuffing above and spoon onto 8 large flat mushrooms. Sprinkle with grated Cheddar and bake as above for the stuffing until the mushrooms are tender.
Butternut Squash and Chestnut Soup
Fry 1 chopped onion, 2 chopped celery stalks, 350g chopped butternut squash and 200g peeled chestnuts in 25g butter in a large pan for 5 mins to soften. Add 1 litre vegetable stock, bring to the boil then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 40 mins. Blend until smooth and season with salt and pepper. Swirl with a little cream to serve.
Peel 450g chestnuts, place in a pan and cover with milk. Simmer for 20 mins until tender. Drain and blend in a food processor until smooth with 3tbsp runny honey. Whip 300ml double cream until just thick enough to form soft peaks, Fold in the chestnut puree and spoon onto 8 bought meringue nests. Sprinkle crumbled chocolate Flake over the top.