An unusual addition to a holiday table or dinner party, this chestnut puree couldn't be simpler. You can use milk instead of the heavy cream and go easy on the pancetta (or leave it out altogether). The pureed chestnuts, simply thinned with a little chicken broth and seasoned with some pepper, would be a treat all on their own.
This is one dish, however, where you should try to use fresh chestnuts rather than pre-cooked. It's all about the flavor of the chestnut.
Servings: 6 About 3 cups
- 1 pound chestnuts (cooked or fresh; see NOTE)
- 3 to 4 cups no-salt-added chicken broth if using fresh chestnuts, 2 cups if using precooked chestnuts
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons heavy cream
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/3 cup plain dried bread crumbs
- 5 ounces pancetta, cut into small dice, cooked until crisp and drained on paper towels (may substitute other bacon)
Combine the chestnuts and broth in a large saucepan over medium heat, making sure the chestnuts are submerged. Cook freshly prepared chestnuts for 1 hour, adding broth as needed to keep the chestnuts submerged; cook precooked, packaged chestnuts for 20 minutes. The chestnuts should be soft.
Use an immersion (stick) blender or a food mill to puree the softened chestnuts. If the puree appears to be too thin, return it to the pot over medium heat, stirring constantly until the liquid evaporates and the puree has thickened. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the butter and the 3 tablespoons of cream. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Have a gratin or baking dish at hand.
Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in a small skillet. Add the bread crumbs and toss to coat evenly.
Fold the pancetta into the puree, then transfer the mixture to the baking dish. Sprinkle the buttered bread crumbs evenly over the top and roast for 20 to 25 minutes or until the bread crumbs are golden brown.
NOTE: To prepare fresh chestnuts for baking, boiling or microwaving, use a small serrated knife to score an X in the flat side of the chestnut shell. The fresher the chestnuts, the easier they will be to cut.
Roast chestnuts at 350 degrees. When the cut chestnut shells curl at the edges (after about 45 minutes), the chestnuts are done. If that does not happen, roast for an extra 15 minutes. The shells should come off easily.
To boil the chestnuts, place them in a saucepan filled with boiling water. Cook over medium-high heat for about 20 minutes. They are done when a knife inserted into the scored X easily dislodges the shell.
To microwave, place the scored chestnuts on a paper towel. Microwave on HIGH for about 3 minutes. Check for doneness by inserted a knife into the scored X area; the shell should dislodge easily.
Adapted from Lucy Vanel of the blog Lucy's Kitchen Notebook.
Tested by Anne Glusker.
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