Canberra's chestnuts have cracking appeal

Roasted pumpkin and chestnut soup.
Roasted pumpkin and chestnut soup. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

It is chestnut season again, a time of the year I look forward to because it brings the possibility of many wonderful savoury and sweet chestnut dishes to cook and enjoy. My recipes today are for roasted pumpkin and chestnut soup, and braised red cabbage with chestnuts.

The chestnuts add a nutty richness to the pumpkin soup which can be flavoured with either rosemary or sage. I like to serve it with wholemeal sour-dough toast for a satisfying meal.

Red cabbage needs to be cooked with an acid ingredient like vinegar or wine to retain its lovely red colour. The combination of flavours in the braised red cabbage with chestnuts, apples and red wine is wonderful and goes well with roast pork, duck, goose or venison. I like to have it with a pork chop or pork sausages and stewed lentils.

Braised red cabbage with chestnuts.
Braised red cabbage with chestnuts. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

It is best to buy chestnuts direct from the grower so you know the variety and can be sure they are fresh. Keep them in a sealed container in the crisper in the fridge for two to three weeks. Shelled and peeled chestnuts can be stored in the fridge for a few days or for longer when frozen.

John and Heather Kane from Tweenhills Chestnuts will be at the Fyshwick Markets roasting chestnuts on weekends now until late June. You can also buy fresh chestnuts from them. Otherwise purchase direct: phone 6238 2280 or online tweenhillschestnuts.com.au

There are a few different techniques for preparing chestnuts. See the notes Preparing & Cooking Chestnuts for the techniques. To begin with they must be scored so they don’t explode. Then they can be roasted, grilled, microwaved, deep fried, steamed or boiled. Peeling chestnuts is a laborious task and unless you have a helper you may find it easier to work in small batches. They need to be peeled while hot.

For these recipes you can also use frozen chestnuts, vacuum packed chestnuts or canned whole chestnuts that are available from The Essential Ingredient in Kingston and selected delicatessens. A special tool for scoring chestnuts is also available and a pan for roasting them.

Roasted pumpkin and chestnut soup

Serves 6

750g butternut pumpkin, peeled and cut into chunks

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2-3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 large brown onion sliced

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

2 tender sticks celery, sliced

6 cups vegetable stock or water and stock cubes

2 sprigs rosemary or sage

250g peeled chestnuts

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C fan or 200C regular. Rub the chunks of pumpkin with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in a roasting pan and bake for 30-40 minutes until soft and tinged with brown. Turn them halfway through. Alternatively the pumpkin can be cooked with the onion and celery in the stock.

Heat a large saucepan with the olive oil and add the onion, garlic, celery, salt and pepper. Cover and cook gently until softened, about 10 minutes. Chop the rosemary or sage and add to the pot. Tip in most of the stock (or water and stock cubes) and bring to the boil and simmer for about 15 minutes until the vegetables are tender.

Add the roasted pumpkin and chestnuts to the saucepan and simmer all together for 15-20 minutes or until the chestnuts are tender. Puree the soup with a stick blender or in a blender. Taste and adjust seasoning. You may like to add a grating of nutmeg as well. Add more stock or water to make soup the consistency you want.

Serve the soup in bowls with a trickle of olive oil and a garnish of herbs with toasted wholemeal sour-dough bread.

Braised red cabbage with chestnuts

The chestnuts take on the red colour of the wine and cabbage when cooked in the dish, so you may prefer to cook them separately and combine at serving time.

Serves 6

½ red cabbage (about 600g trimmed)

1 red onion, sliced in half-moons

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 bay leaf

1 sprig thyme

4 cloves

½ cinnamon quill

½ tsp grated nutmeg

1 Granny Smith apple, sliced

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tbsp sugar

½ cup red wine or stock

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

250g peeled chestnuts

½ cup vegetable stock as required

1 tbsp chopped parsley

Cut the cabbage into quarters, remove and discard the outside leaves, core and thick ribs. Wash and shred the cabbage fairly finely.

Heat the oil in a casserole dish over medium heat and fry the onion with the bay leaf and thyme sprig and a pinch of salt for about ten minutes until softened. Add the cabbage and stir-fry for five minutes until it is glistening.

Stir in the spices and pepper and cook for a minute and then add the apple, vinegar, wine and sugar. Cover and simmer for about one hour giving an occasional stir or transfer to a preheated 150C oven and cook undisturbed for an hour.

Either add the peeled chestnuts to the cabbage after 30 minutes with a little extra stock or red wine if needed and cook all together for the last 30 minutes; or simmer the chestnuts in the stock with a little olive oil, seasoning and sprig of thyme until tender and the stock has mostly cooked away.

Cook away any excess liquid in the braised cabbage over high heat. Then taste and adjust for a balance of flavours and seasoning if needed. Serve hot with the chestnuts mixed through the cabbage or on the side if cooked separately. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley for a little sparkle.

Variations

Braised chestnuts can be combined with sauteed mushrooms or with other vegetables such as savoy cabbage, brussels sprouts or roasted parsnips.

Preparing & Cooking Chestnuts

The following information is from the Chestnut Growers’ Information Book. Check out chestnutsaustralia.com.au for other information and recipes.

Before cooking, the most important step is to cut the shell to prevent the nut exploding while cooking. Some people cut a slit across the face of the nut others cut a cross into the flat-end.

To bake: Preheat oven to 200C. Place chestnuts onto a baking tray and bake for 15-20 minutes or until shell splits.

To microwave: Place chestnuts in a single layer on a microwave-safe plate. Cook, uncovered, on 850 watts/High/100 per cent for 4-6 minutes or until flesh is tender.

To roast, grill or barbecue: Cook, turning occasionally, in a pan over medium heat for 20-30 minutes or until shell splits.

To boil (if using to puree): Place chestnuts into a pan of cold water, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until flesh is tender.

Wrap the cooked chestnuts in a tea-towel. Remove the outer shell and pellicle or inner skin while still warm (they're difficult to peel once cooled).

Diana Lampe is a Canberra writer, dlampe@bigpond.net.au