Autumn – Part 1 – Chestnuts

April 23 2014 Chestnuts

There are few times of the year that give me as much satisfaction as autumn. It’s a time of frantic activity, harvesting the bounty of summer while getting winter veg planted before the cold weather hits. Indeed, in the last week I’ve been making Basil Ravioli and picking late tomatoes, beans and even eggplant while planting winter peas, broccoli and endives. And as I type this, my household’s been plagued with change-of-season bugs, and I’m doing my best to recover from tonsillitis. But this week I had a sharp reminder that autumn means chestnuts!

My pet rabbits live in the shade and protection of a mature sweet chestnut tree (Castanea sp.), and a day of strong wind brought nuts tumbling on top of their hutches. While I was feeding them, one landed on my head and although it was pretty painful, fortunately no damage was done. So, I pulled out my strongest pair of winter gardening gloves and got down to the business of shucking.

Chestunuts Straight off the Tree

Chestunuts Straight off the Tree

Chestnuts are fiddly things to process. There’s no shortcuts that I know (but any you want to share would be gratefully accepted and acknowledged!), which probably accounts for their high price! They’re not a common nut in Australia, with most tinned or vacuum packed produce coming from overseas. After liberating my nuts from the painfully spiky husks, I scored a couple of dozen at a time with a sharp paring knife and set them to roast in moderate oven (about 180 degrees C) for approximately 20 minutes. The scoring is important, as chestnuts can explode in the oven, making not only a huge mess but a potentially very dangerous kitchen!

Scorching Hot - Fresh From the Oven

Scorching Hot – Fresh From the Oven

It is also impossible – well, I think it is – to shell chestnuts cold. The outer shell is tough and there’s an inner membrane that comes away easily when it’s hot. So, I recommend taking a few out of the oven at a time, wrapping them in a thick tea towel and peeling as fast as possible.

It was very tempting to scoff them all as I was peeling them – there is something so enticing about fresh, hot chestnuts. I can totally understand the northern hemisphere custom of roasting chestnuts over an open fire at christmas time. Fortunately, I remained strong, and sereval scorched fingers and broken nails later, I had quite a nice bowl to show for my efforts.

The Final Product Sans Shell

The Final Product Sans Shell

So, the next and all-important question – what to do with them? Some people use them for baking gluten-free cakes and sweets, but I find them very heavy for that kind of thing and quite unappetising. Chestnuts have a slightly sweet flavour and are starchy in texture, but unlike most nuts, have little fat or protein and lots of carbohydrate. They absorb other flavours well – both sweet and savoury – and are equally lovely tossed hot in butter, ground cinnamon and sugar or coarse ground sea salt, butter and a little fresh chopped sage, rosemary and thyme.

But I decided on a complex flavoured sauce for a simple chicken main course, very easy to prepare and well complimented with boiled potates with garlic butter and steamed seasonal vegetables. Here’s the recipe:

April 24 2014 Chestnut Sauce

Chicken with Chestnut Sauce

Chicken:

  • 2 chicken breast or 6 thigh fillets
  • 1 tab olive oil &/or 1/2 tab butter

Sauce:

  • 1 rasher bacon, finely chopped
  • 1/2 large red onion (or one small) sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 8-10 roasted chestnuts, chopped
  • dried chilli to taste
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • ½ tab stock powder
  • 1 tab fresh lemon thyme
  • ½ teas fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup water

Method:

Heat oven to 180° C and heat the oil and butter in a deep frypan. Sauté chicken over a high heat for a minute each side, then put in an ovenproof dish and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in the deep frypan, turn the heat down and add sliced red onion, bacon, garlic, chilli, smoked paprika and finely chopped lemon thyme. Stirring, add the chopped chestnuts, stock powder and cup of water.

Simmer gently, mashing the chestnuts with the back of a spoon and add the chopped fresh rosemary. When the chicken is cooked, the sauce should be quite reduced. Plate up the chicken and vegetables, spoon the sauce over carefully.

On reflection, one addition I’d make to the sauce that’s in keeping with autumn produce is a few very finely chopped mushrooms.

April 24 2014 Chicken with Chestnut Sauce

Bon appetit!

Besides my mandatory butter-tossed chestnuts, I’m planning to experiment with the rest of this year’s crop. I want to do a soup (my favourite comfort food) and a dessert with some of the apples and quinces I’ve recently been given. I’ll let you all know how it goes but please feel free to comment and share, especially if you have more experience than my few seasons struggling with chestnut shucking – I’m keen to learn!

Debra 🙂

Back on the Line! Playing Catch-up with a Virtual Life

After six months with just my trusty mobile phone, I’m extremely happy to announce that I’ve got a home broadband connection again. Despite having the WordPress app on my phone, it’s just not the same as this interface on my laptop.

It’s good to be back – but now the big job of catching up begins! So much has been happening this southern summer, and as always, some of it’s been good and some of it’s been really bad.

On the “utterly brilliant” end of the spectrum, I’ve finished my first fully online unit through Griffith University. Despite only having my mobile for connection, I managed a surprising high distinction and I have to thank some beautiful friends in Hobart for letting me leach their net regularly to stay on top of things. Thank you Lauren and Patsi ❤ you two are wonderful! I’m well into my second unit now and starting to really enjoy the challenge of study again.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be finalising digital stuff for my most recent recording and playing catch up with getting cd’s out and about. And for those of you in southern Tasmania, I’m playing at the next ASA show on Wednesday, 9th April. Once again, we’re at The Night Owl in Liverpool Street, Hobart.

ASA 9th April poster

I’ll also have details to reveal soon about a new songwriting/recording/documentary project, plus a live, all-girl punk band I’m playing with called Straddlepuss.

And finally, being back online with a fibre connection means I can at long last offer Skype music lessons to you all. I can’t believe it was October last year when I first wrote about this and it’s taken until now to get it off the ground! If you’re interested, fill out the contact form – and the first lesson is free 😉

There’s been sadness too but I’m not dwelling on that today.

Today is a day for cheering!

Take care friends,

Debra ❤