Sweet chestnuts roasting on an open fire

Brisk winter walks in towns and cities enjoyed as Christmas approaches are often flavoured with the warm, enticing smells of roasting sweet chestnuts offered by street vendors shrouded in clouds of billowing smoke.
Sweet chestnuts awaiting the roasting pan. Image: John Coupe
Sweet chestnuts awaiting the roasting pan. IMAGE: JOHN COUPE

Holding a hot bag sweet chestnuts and carefully picking away their blisteringly hot skins is a Christmas tradition for many. The warmed yellow flesh of the chestnut melts away in the mouth giving you a sweet, earthy flavoured treat, that conjures up images of snowy streets of Christmas past.

So, here’s how to bring these tastes and smell of winter into your home.

Bag of chestnuts (foraged between October and December) or from farmers and Christmas markets, say about eight for each person.

Roast sweet chestnuts

Heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

Using a small, sharp knife, cut a cross into the skin of each nut. (Unscored nuts will explode around your kitchen!

Rinse and pat dry in a kitchen towel.

They also cook well in a fire’s embers place on a special skillet or roaster with a number of holes drilled into the base.

Put in a roasting tin and bake for about 30 mins.

Wait until skins splits and the yellow flesh inside is tenderFor a dose of authenticity, serve in paper bags, or in a sharing bowl.

Peel away the tough, blackened outer skin and the pithy white inner skin to bit into the sweet kernel.

Once cooked the nuts can be blitzed in a food processor into a fine crumb and used with chocolate, for example for to create the French delicacy, Bûche de Noël, a Christmas log packed with a chestnut puree.

And here’s a recipe for

Cranberry and chestnut stuffing

Prep time 15 min
Cook time 40 min
Serves 8

You’ll need

50 g butter, unsalted
1 large onion, chopped finely
2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
100 g chestnuts, cooked and roughly chopped
100 g dried cranberries
100 g pork sausage meat
200 g breadcrumbs
1 large egg, beaten
Handful, fresh thyme leaves, chopped
Handful, fresh sage leaves, chopped
Handful, fresh parsley, finely chopped.

Method

Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4.

Melt butter in a large pan. Add onions and garlic cook gently for 5-10 minutes until softened.

Add chestnuts and cranberries. Cook for a further 5 minutes.

Place the sausage meat in a large bowl. Break up with a wooden spoon.

Fold in the chestnut mixture, breadcrumbs, egg and chopped herbs. Season with salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.

Cover and chill until needed.

Cook in a buttered shallow ovenproof dish for 30-35 minutes until golden brown.

This stuffing can be prepared a day in advance and then placed into the turkey ready for the Christmas meal.

 

 

Bruce McMichael

I am freelance journalist and published author focusing on food and drink; business startups and enterprise; culture and travel. I have also written about the global upstream oil and gas industry, shipping and current affairs. Based in London, I travel widely, particularly across western Europe. I have chaired many conferences and meetings, spoken at conferences and events and often appear on radio and TV talking most about food, the business of food and being an entrepreneur.

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