A fresh chestnut is a hard nut to crack, so we're lucky, then, that we can buy them ready to go, making it that much easier to add some northern magic to our Christmas.
Seasonality alert! Much as we normally like to cleave to what's in season at our local fruiterer, at Christmas the usual rules don't have to apply. How else to explain roast turkey in Cairns and all those Thermoses of eggnog on Bondi Beach?
Chestnuts are a Christmas staple in the northern hemisphere, and though you won't see them imported "fresh" Down Under at this time of year, it just so happens that they freeze and vacuum-pack pretty darn well.
And the best news? They're frozen after some other poor soul has done the hard work of shelling and cooking them for you. Most good delis and fancy food stores stock them, especially at this time of year (Cheznuts, The Essential Ingredient and GJ Food are our go-to suppliers).
Prepared chestnuts can be used straight from the vac-pack, for roasting or simmering in milk for a dessert, as we've done here.
Roasted chestnut and cabbage salad
Serves 4-6 as a side
Preheat oven to 250C. Soak cup golden raisins in a bowl with 60ml sweet Sherry until plump (30 minutes), then drain (discard Sherry). Scatter 250gm halved prepared chestnuts in a roasting pan, drizzle with 2 tbsp olive oil, season generously with sea salt flakes and roast until golden (10-15 minutes). Set aside to cool slightly. Combine 2 golden shallots, finely chopped, ¼ cabbage, finely shredded, ¼ cup finely grated parmesan and ¼ cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley in a bowl. Add chestnuts, 1 tbsp Sherry vinegar and 60ml extra-virgin olive oil, toss to combine and serve.
Chestnut, sage and sausage stuffing
Serves 6-8 (pictured)
Preheat oven to 220C. Combine 350gm crumbled pork sausage meat, 200gm prepared chestnuts, 160gm crusty bread, torn into bite-sized pieces, 1/3 cup firmly packed sage leaves, 4 golden shallots, cut into wedges, 60gm softened butter, a few strips of lemon rind and 1 tbsp olive oil in a bowl and season generously to taste. Transfer to a roasting pan, cover with foil and bake until bread has soaked up most of the butter and sausages are cooked (20 minutes). Remove foil and roast until golden (15-25 minutes). Season well to taste and serve with your Christmas turkey.
Baked plums with roast chestnut and rosemary ice-cream
Preheat oven to 200C. Roast 200gm prepared chestnuts in an oven dish until golden (10-15 minutes). Set aside to cool, then finely chop and combine with 600gm vanilla bean ice-cream and 3 tsp finely chopped rosemary in the chilled bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle and beat until just combined. Transfer to a container and freeze until required. Meanwhile, halve 4 plums and place cut-side up on an oven tray lined with baking paper, sprinkle with 2 tbsp brown sugar and bake until plums are soft and caramelised (10-15 minutes). Transfer to bowls, add scoops of ice-cream and serve.
Fried chestnuts with Gorgonzola and bitter leaves
Serves 4-6 as a side
Heat 60ml olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat, add 250gm prepared chestnuts and fry, stirring occasionally until golden and crisp (10-15 minutes). Drain excess oil, season generously and set aside to cool on absorbent paper. Combine in a bowl with 100gm mixed bitter leaves, such as frisée and radicchio, 60gm Gorgonzola, crumbled, 50ml extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tbsp aged red wine vinegar, toss to coat and serve.
Combine 500gm prepared chestnuts, 500ml milk, 75gm caster sugar and the scraped seeds of ½ vanilla bean in a saucepan and cook over low heat until chestnuts are very soft (20-30 minutes). Set aside to cool, then process in a food processor to a purée. Pass through a potato ricer into 4 bowls to create mountains of puréed-chestnut noodles. Top with a large dollop of gently whipped cream and a generous grating of dark chocolate and serve.
- Both frozen uncooked chestnuts and packaged blanched chestnuts have great flavour; choose frozen chestnuts if the colour is important.
- Be careful when separating the packaged blanched chestnuts - they tend to clump together and break.