Autumn is chestnut time and they are now appearing in the fruit markets. Chestnuts, unlike other nuts and seeds, are relatively low in calories, carry less fat, but are rich sources of minerals, vitamins and phyto-nutrients that benefit your health.
Chestnuts always remind of another old favourite sung by Nat ‘King’ Cole, Christmas song, ‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”.
‘Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack Frost nipping at your nose
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir
And folks dressed up like Eskimos
Everybody knows a turkey and some
Mistletoe help to make the season bright
Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow
Will find it hard to sleep tonight
They know that Santa’s on his way….’
Well it is not Santa time in Australia, but we can enjoy the autumn chestnuts in our Melbourne shops now. And, as I am on my way to France, I thought I would re-visit this article, here below, that I wrote a few years ago about the chestnuts of the Ardèche in the south west corner of France, plus share with you this sensational dessert cake, perfect for this time of year!
Turinois – a chestnut, chocolate and rum cream cake
This sweet chestnut and chocolate log is a delicacy from the Ardèche in the Languedoc in the south-west corner of France. It is an uncooked cake of chestnut purée, butter, sugar, chocolate and rum, delicious with desserts or coffee.
Makes 20 slices
1 tin pure chestnut purée
100g dark chocolate
3 tbsp rum
whipped cream and some liqueur-soaked coffee beans and grated chocolate
Melt the chestnut purée in one pot and stir to remove any lumps. In another pot, melt the butter, sugar and chocolate. Add the melted sugar, butter and chocolate to the chestnut purée, stirring well to combine so there are no lumps. Add the rum and pour into a baking paper lined oblong tin, smoothing the top and refrigerate overnight.
To serve, unmould and if serving as a dessert, decorate with whipped cream, chocolate and the coffee beans.
And to warm your soul on cold, Melbourne winter days, try this warming chestnut soup
This chestnut soup is from the Ardèche region of France; it is described as “un potage” to differentiate it from “une soupe”, as it is a smooth creamy soup with the distinctive, faint sweetness of chestnuts. Le potage was traditionally regarded as a delicate, usually smooth, creamy vegetable soup, whereas la soupe was traditionally the main meal and the poultry or game that gave the soup the flavour and character was eaten separately as a course after the liquid.
1 onion, finely chopped
1tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 potato, peeled and diced
1 stick celery, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
20g unsalted butter
1kg unpeeled chestnuts, to yield 500g of peeled chestnuts, or substitute 1 can unsweetened chestnut purée and 250g of peeled chestnuts
1L chicken stock
100ml whipping cream or cream fraîche
½ tsp grated nutmeg
sea salt and cracked black pepper
1 tbsp Muscat, sherry or tokay
parsley, chopped to garnish
In a heavy based saucepan, slowly saute the onion in some oil and butter for 12 minutes without colouring it; add more butter and the remaining vegetables and sweat over a gentle heat for 5 minutes.
If using the chestnut purée, now add stock, chestnut purée and stir well together. Simmer for 5 minutes and then purée the contents of the pot. Return the purée to the pot, add peeled chestnuts and simmer, covered slightly for 25 minutes until the chestnuts are tender.
Add cream, grated nutmeg and simmer for a further 15 minutes, uncovered, to thicken; if too thick add some extra stock or water. Season to taste. Before serving add the fortified wine. Garnish with the flat parsley.
If using the peeled chestnuts, cook as above with the chestnuts simmering for 25 minutes, reserving a few chestnuts for garnish. Purée the contents of the pot, pass through a fine sieve and return the purée to the pot.
Add cream, grated nutmeg and simmer for a further 15 minutes, uncovered, to thicken; if too thick add some extra stock or water. Season to taste and add the whole chestnuts. Before serving add the fortified wine. Garnish with the flat parsley.
The Sweet Chestnut from South-West France
A visit to the Ardèche, a department in northern Languedoc, in the south-west of France, is bound to make any chestnut lovers dream come true.
The region is known for its lush, mountainous landscapes, swift rivers and spectacular rock formations and especially as the country’s leading producer of sweet chestnuts. On average, chestnut trees, or ‘bread trees’ as they are called in the Ardèche, can produce about 6000 tons of fruit per year. It is no wonder that chestnut products and dishes abound in the area.
In the autumn, the chestnut season is in full glory. From early October until early November, villages in the Ardèche hold their annual chestnut festival. In 2006, the Ardèche sweet chestnut was granted the AOC – appellation d’origine contrôlée, as one of the Ardèche’s ultimate delicacies.
The marron is the cultivated version of the wild châtaigne. In each husk there is one marron or 2 or 3 châtaignes, which are smaller with flat sides. For the cook, the extra work in peeling the little châtaignes is well worth the effort, as they have a less cloying texture than marrons and a more delicate, perfumed flavour.
You will find sweet chestnuts in a variety of hearty dishes, chopped and scattered over salads, in decadent sweet treats and even dried, milled and turned into flour.
Turinois, a chocolate and chestnut dessert log, is a particular delicacy from the Ardèche.
Liqueur de châtaigne
This velvety smooth, amber- coloured liqueur is traditionally enjoyed as an aperitif. Mix one part liqueur de châtaigne with four parts dry white wine or champagne. It is especially delicious drizzled over chocolate or vanilla ice cream.
Crème de marrons
There is nothing quite as decadent as a thick slice of warm, buttered toast slathered with crème de marrons. The sweetened, vanilla flavored chestnut cream can also be enjoyed as a topping for crêpes, or used in desserts and baked goods.
Although marrons glacés are traditionally eaten during the holiday season, it would be a shame to only enjoy them once a year. Candied chestnuts are delicious on their own, in desserts or as a garnish.
Miel de châtaignier
This gourmet chestnut honey, ranging in colour from pale yellow to beautifully burnished brown, has a strong, rounded flavor with slightly bitter notes. Try it as a sweetener in coffee, tea and even hot chocolate. Use it sparingly, as it is rather fragrant.
Farine de châtaignes
Chestnut flour is a versatile ingredient which can be used in pancakes, breads, cakes and other baked goods. The flavour of chestnut flour tends to be quite sweet so bear that in mind when using it in your recipes. It has a shelf life of 3 – 4 months.
Make sure to sample this creamy, sweet chestnut soup during your stay in the Ardèche. It is usually served hot as an appetiser, but you can also enjoy it as a comforting lunch with plenty of crusty baguette.