It may be surprising to know that chestnuts have been a staple food in continental Europe much longer than the potato. It's taken us British a bit longer to embrace it's goodness, but I think we can safely say that it has become well ensconced in our diets and favour. Indeed you can find delicious recipes using this very versatile and flavourful ingredient scattered amongst cookery books from the 19th century onwards . . . puddings, soups, sauces and savoury stuffings . . .
Chestnuts differ a great deal from other nuts in that they have a high starch and water content, yet are low in protein and fats, which makes them ideal for storage. Dried and ground, they can be easily incorporated into breads, cereals, soups and batters.
In Britain wild sweet chestnuts are generally not available until they fall from off the trees in late October, and in a good year a lucky harvester can come away easily with a carrier bag or two! Plump, smooth and shiny, be sure to avoid any that are wrinkly or dried looking, and don't confuse the nuts from the horse chestnut tree with edible sweet chestnuts. They are completely un-related in the edible sense and the horse chestnuts are only really good for conkers! Edible sweet chestnuts are encased in a shell of long sharp spikes and inside there will be anywhere's from two to four nuts.
If you are lucky enough to have a bag of them and want to prepare them for roasting and eating I would suggest that you soak them in some water for a good 30 minutes before scoring them with a sharp knife on their rounded side and then roasting them in a hot oven for 25 to 30 minutes . . . and there is no tastier treat than to buy a fresh bag of hot roasted chestnuts from a street vendor in the depths of a cold December's day . . .
I recently purchased some delicious sweetened vanilla flavoured chestnut puree and was able to create a delicious dessert for some guests we had here at the cottage a few nights ago. I am sure most of you have heard of Mont Blanc, which is essentially a dessert composed of tasty meringues, sweetened chestnut puree and chantilly cream. (sweetened whipped cream)
The chestnut puree was so delicious, I could have just stood there and eaten it by the spoonful, right out of the tin . . . but . . .
that would have been quite greedy, don't you think??? And . . . I do like to share . . .
Not only was this incredibly easy to put together, but it was most impressive to look at and had our dinner guests ooohing and ahhing all over the place . . . especially the ladies.
Every spoonful was bliss . . . total . . . and utterly . . . bliss. But don't take my word for it. Try it out for yourselves. I think you'll quite . . . quite . . . like it.
This has to be one of the easiest and the tastiest desserts around. Your guests will think you have slaved all day.
4 glasses with stems
8 to 12 small plain meringues
250ml of double cream, chilled
2 TBs icing sugar
400g sweet vanilla flavoured chestnut puree
chocolate sprinkles (optional)
Crumble the meringues and divide them equally amongst the stemmed glasses. Put the chilled double cream into a large bowl and whip with an eletric whisk until it forms soft peaks, but is not stiff. (if perchance you have whipped it a bit much, gently stir some unwhipped cream into it to loosen it up a bit. It works a charm) Fold in the icing sugar. Cover the layer of meringue in the glasses with chestnut puree and then cover that with the sweetened whipped cream. Sprinkle with sprinkles if desired.