That old chestnut

Easy peel-ly ... Heather Kane, of Tweenhills Chestnuts, has a good method of preparing the nuts.
Easy peel-ly ... Heather Kane, of Tweenhills Chestnuts, has a good method of preparing the nuts. Photo: Tweenhills Chestnuts

Chestnuts are not only delicious and versatile but also very good for you. They are nutritious, low in fat, high in fibre, and have a low glycaemic index. They're also gluten free.

If you haven't cooked chestnuts before, try roasting them on your barbecue, but be sure to score them first. One kilogram of chestnuts yields about 700 grams when shelled.

This week, I offer two chestnut recipes for you and a few suggestions for other ways to use chestnuts.

Roasting brussels sprouts and chestnuts in the oven adds a toasty flavour to this classic combination. Usually served with roast turkey, they are just as good with a pork chop or pork sausages. If you don't want to have meat, try the dish with baked new potatoes and fontina cheese (see the variation).

Torta di castagne is a very special Italian chestnut and chocolate dessert cake. It is gluten free. I recently served it (for the adults) at a lunch to celebrate the christening of my grandson, Alexander. It was a hit. The cake is better baked a day ahead to give the flavours time to mellow and mature. It can be made with fresh or frozen chestnuts or with a can of unsweetened chestnut puree.

There are many different ways to prepare chestnuts and local grower Heather Kane from Tweenhills Chestnuts has a good method. Remove the outer shell using a small knife. You can keep the shelled chestnuts in the fridge until later or overnight. Then to peel them, place in cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for five to 10 minutes. The skin will look different – "thicker and saturated", as she puts it, when they are ready. Carefully lift one out and remove the pellicle or skin with a knife. They will be hot. When the pellicle comes away easily they're ready so turn off the heat and peel the rest.

In season ... Torta di castagne, chestnut and chocolate cake..
In season ... Torta di castagne, chestnut and chocolate cake.. Photo: Katherine Griffiths

Peeled chestnuts can be stored in the fridge or freezer. They will need further cooking in water, stock or milk depending on the recipe.

You can also add chestnuts to stir-fries, use them in stuffing, or make them into gnocchi with potatoes. They're also good roasted with root vegetables.

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

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Oven-roasted brussels sprouts with chestnuts

Choose smallish sprouts of a similar size so they will cook evenly.

500g brussels sprouts

250g shelled chestnuts

Oven-roasted brussels sprouts with chestnuts.
Oven-roasted brussels sprouts with chestnuts. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

½ cup vegetable stock

2 cloves garlic

2 sprigs thyme

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil or butter

sea salt and ground black pepper

Trim the brussels sprouts and cook in salted boiling water, uncovered, for five minutes. Drain and spread out on a tea towel to cool. Meanwhile, simmer the chestnuts in the stock with a little olive oil or butter until tender and the stock has mostly cooked away.

Set the oven at 200C regular or 180C fan forced. Heat the remaining oil or butter in an wide ovenproof frying pan or baking dish and add the sprouts, chestnuts, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. Toss and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Stir half way.

Tip into a warm dish and serve hot.

Variations: Bake chat potatoes and combine with chestnuts and sprouts and roast together. A delicious recipe from The Silver Spoon adds fried eschallots, grated nutmeg, a squeeze of lemon and is topped with grated fontina cheese and dots of butter and then baked.

Torta di castagne - chestnut cake

Serves 12

100g walnuts or almonds

250g sugar

125g dark chocolate

500g peeled fresh or frozen chestnuts (800g whole chestnuts)

1 cup milk

4 free-range eggs, separated while cold

100g butter, softened

grated zest of half an orange or vanilla extract

1-2 tbsp rum or Nocello walnut liqueur (optional)

pinch of salt

For the cake you need a 23-centimetre cake tin. Brush with butter and line the base with baking paper.

Process the walnuts or almonds with a little of the sugar in a food processor or by hand until finely chopped. Tip into a large bowl. Then chop the chocolate in the food processor or grate and add to the bowl.

Simmer the chestnuts with the milk for about 15 minutes until tender. Drain and keep milk aside. Process the chestnuts or pass through a food mill. If needed add a little of the milk to make this easier. Add the chestnut puree (when cool) to the nuts and chocolate and combine.

Beat the egg yolks and remaining sugar until thick and then add in the soft butter. Tip this mixture into the chestnut puree, nuts and chocolate. Add the orange zest or vanilla and rum or liqueur (if using) and mix all together.

Preheat the oven to 160C (fan-forced) or 180C regular.

Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt to soft peaks stage and fold into the chestnut mixture. Tip into the prepared tin and spread evenly. Bake in the centre of the oven for about one hour or until the cake is firm and coming away from the sides. Stand the tin on a rack for 15 minutes before turning out to cool. Sprinkle the cake with icing sugar and cut into slices. Serve with whipped cream that has been sweetened and flavoured with vanilla extract.

Use the leftover milk for your morning porridge or to make custard.

Chestnuts cooked in red wine

Emilia-Romagna. Score chestnuts and place them in a saucepan with red wine to cover and a splash of water. Add a bay leaf and pinch of salt. Cover and simmer gently for about 30 minutes or until the chestnuts open up. Reduce the liquid if you wish and serve the chestnuts hot. They should be easy to peel.

Mashed potatoes with chestnuts

Use one quantity of peeled chestnuts to three of potatoes. Boil the potatoes as usual in salted water. At the same time, simmer the chestnuts in milk to cover until tender. Drain the potatoes and mash with the chestnuts and as much of the cooking milk as needed, and add butter, freshly grated nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.