Sunday, 1 November 2009

Chestnuts

Gusty early November is the perfect time to go gathering nuts. Rule number one for nutty foragers is not to confuse edible chestnuts with conkers. A wild sweet chestnut is one third of the size of most conkers with a pointed end.

Chestnuts differ from other nuts in that they have a high starch and water content, but low protein and fat levels, so they can be dried and ground into a meal for breads, batters, cakes and stews.

The majority of chestnuts available in supermarkets are from Europe rather than Britain, so look for home-grown chestnuts at farmers’ markets.

If you don’t have a toasty open fire, remove the prickly green husks, make a small incision in the chestnuts (so they don’t explode) and “roast” them in a dry frying pan for about 10-15 minutes. Make that two minutes if you’ve got a George Foreman-style grill contraption.

Use fresh chestnuts in risotto, mash or stir fried with Brussels sprouts and pancetta. They work well roasted alongside game and root vegetables, as a stuffing for turkey and pork or to give a savoury-sweet autumnal stamp to a chocolate torte topped with spiced pears.

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