Friday, 26 December 2014

Chestnuts roasting in Hell - Brussel sprout, bacon and chestnut bake

Now, I love chestnuts. I love their nutty, potato-like taste and texture and I love how versatile they are. Crème de marron, chestnut paste, is my favourite filling for crêpes when in Brittany. But if possible I love them even more in savoury dishes: in France they were often serves as an accompaniment for game. Cooked with lardons, bien sûr!

So, sure, I'd love to be able to eat them more often. Nut that I can, though (see what I just did there? A little nutty joke!)

See, at least in South of Europe these babies are available cooked and peeled. And as you know, I'm not one to pine after vacuum-packed ready-made stuff when the fresh one's are in season and readily available in any old corner store. But these are an exception. These buggers are a pain to prepare.

The operation itself isn't much of an operation at all. You just cut a cross-shape incision into the chubby side of the chestnut, place them on  a tray the cut side up and roast at 200º for 15 or so minutes. Then, while they're still warm, you peel them: both the woody exterior shell and the brown skin on the inside. But at least with the specimen sold here there are simply no guarantees of what's lurking on the inside. 

I can tell you however, that after you've spent 3 days roasting 4 batches and peeling those little devils so that your fingers are bleeding (quite literally too) "helpful tips" such as "the skin comes easily off when using good quality chestnuts" don't feel terribly helpful at all.  

Every single time I've tried roasting my own, most of them have been either old and dry, rotten or just... inedible in 500 other ways. So, if possible, save your nerves and buy the vacuum-packed ones. Do not skip the recipe though as it is good.

Since bacon makes... well, everything better, I paired chestnuts with that. And as it is the Brussels sprout season, I threw some in too.  A little garlic to give it a bit of a kick and lemon zest to freshen it all up. And hey ho, ho ho ho!

As a side this this feeds 4

1 pkt (140 g) bacon or pancetta
1,5 tbsp butter
400 g Brussels sprouts
1 tsp garlic powder
250 g roasted, peeled chestnuts, halved
salt, pepper

to serve: 1/2 lemon zest, finely grated

Cut the bacon in cubes and fry, starting on cold pan and bringing the temperature up so they start rendering the fat and crispen up. Once they're done, remove with a slotted spoon. Depending on the bacon fat left in the pan, add butter and fry the halved, trimmed sprouts until a little caramelized. Then add garlic powder and chestnuts. 

Continue cooking for a couple of more minutes, season with salt and pepper and place in an oven-proof dish. Continue cooking at 200º for 15 minutes (tossing if needed halfway through), add the bacon and continue cooking for another 5 minutes until the sprouts are done. 

Check the taste, season if needed and sprinkle the lemon zest on top. Serve with a roast. And this roasted garlic and cashew sauce!




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