Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Chestnuts And All Souls

Today is All Saints's day which leads to all Soul's . Throughout Catholic Europe the day is spent roasting chestnuts, their steam representing souls . Yet chestnuts also represent something else - versatility and flavor. They can be used in both savory and sweet dishes.

Most home chefs will be taking an interest in the nut at the end of this month. Many will break out the family recipe for chestnut dressing. This is a nice alternative to just traditional bread stuffing with the nutmeats adding a sweet earthy flavor. The recipe is a simple dressing one with the addition of a pound of chestnuts.They're boiled first and then peeled. You can also roast them for a richer, more complex taste.Roasted chestnuts will also add some crunch too. Sausage can also be added if you want.Not surprisingly , they can be used in salads too.Pair them with the tart Granny Smith apples along with arugula and endive. Because all three have strong tastes, stick to a simple red wine vinegar based vinaigrette. Leftover turkey can be added to this the day after the holiday for a refreshing break from heavy eating.Chestnuts are one of the few nuts that can be ground into flour for bread. Keep in mind that it is gluten free and it won't raise like regular flour.You can make a very flavorful sweet flatbread with it.The nuts need to be roasted in a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven for 25 minutes. They then have to dehydrated at 400 degrees F oven for twelve hours to a day. The chestnuts are then ground in a spice grinder or blend to a fine crumb. They can also be ground into polenta. This is what the Northern Italians, primarily, the Piedmontese ate before corn was introduced to Europe.

The flour can also be used for cakes and tortes.This makes for an elegant alternative to regular  cake and pie.The flour should be sifted before using because it does tend to clump.The end result is a dense ,low cake. The flavor is intense so a simple chocolate glaze or dusting of powdered sugar would be the best choice of icing.The batter can also be used for cupcakes, but again. don't expect the height that you would get with regular cupcakes. Italy gives us  their version called castanagnaccio. This has olive oil along with raisins and orange zest in it. Walnuts and pignole, or pine nuts add more nuttiness while rosemary leaves decorate the top.This is a Tuscan tradition that appeals more to adult tastes and is usually served with wine and not coffee.A truly decadent chestnut dessert is marron glace, made in northern Italy and southern France.The chestnuts have to be boiled in salted water for twenty minutes and then are peeled. In another pan  cook two cups of granulated sugar into a quart of water.A vanilla bean can then be added for more taste.The syrup is then poured over the nuts and then left to simmer over a low heat for thirty minutes. They can be served afterwards with fresh whipped cream or better yet , a splash of brandy. Candied chestnuts can also give a bowl of oatmeal some oomph as well as topping butter cookies.

Chestnuts represent the souls heading towards Heaven. They also represent a versatile nut that can be used in both savory and sweet recipes. Enjoy them not just today and tomorrow but for the rest of the month..

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