The combination of Italian pasta and chestnuts adds a quintessential holiday touch to your Christmastime dining. Although roasting the chestnuts yourself adds depth to the dish, for ease, it’s fine to substitute bottled chestnuts.
If you do roast the chestnuts, it may help to have vegetable basket or chestnut roaster. For alternative roasting methods, see VARIATIONS, below.
Make Ahead: The chestnuts can be roasted a day or two in advance.
Servings: 4 - 6 main-course
- 25 fresh chestnuts (may substitute 8 ounces store-bought, peeled and roasted whole chestnuts, coarsely chopped; 1 1/2 cups)
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 ounces pancetta, chopped (scant 1 cup)
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 4 medium cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped sage
- Salt, for the cooking water
- 8 ounces dried tagliatelle (may substitute 12 ounces fresh tagliatelle; adjust the cooking time accordingly)
- 1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
Prepare the charcoal grill for direct heat: Light the charcoal. When the briquettes are ready, distribute them evenly under the cooking area. For a medium-hot fire, you should be able to hold your hand about 6 inches above the coals for about 5 or 6 seconds.
Rinse the chestnuts. Use a sharp paring knife or, better yet, a serrated knife to score an "X" in the rounded side of each chestnut.
When the fire is ready, place the chestnuts cut side down directly over the fire. If you’re using a vegetable basket or chestnut popper, place the chestnuts cut side down in the basket/popper and set it over the fire. Close the lid.
Cook for about 20 minutes or until the shell begins to scorch and pull away from the nut and the meat turns golden. Watch the chestnuts closely; depending on the heat of your fire, they could be done in as little as 10 minutes. It’s fine if they are a little blackened, but you don’t want coallike nuggets.
Remove the chestnuts from the grill. Once they’re cool enough to handle, peel the chestnuts. They’re easier to peel when they’re warm.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring frequently, until it begins to crisp and brown. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and 1 tablespoon of the sage; cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in the chestnuts and remove from heat.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions. Drain, reserving 1 1/2 cups of the cooking water. Add the drained pasta and the pancetta mixture to the skillet. Add 1 cup of the reserved cooking water along with the cheese and butter; cook, tossing constantly, over high heat until pasta is well coated (add more reserved water if necessary), about 1 minute.
Season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide among individual wide shallow bowls; serve sprinkled with parsley and the remaining tablespoon of sage.
VARIATIONS: To roast chestnuts in the fireplace, wrap the scored chestnuts in an aluminum foil packet. Carefully place the packet in a medium-size fire; roast for about 15 minutes. Open the packet; when the chestnuts are just cool enough to handle but still warm, peel them. To roast them in the oven, arrange the scored chestnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast in a 425-degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Cool till warm, then peel.
Adapted by Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin from a recipe in the February 2005 issue of Gourmet magazine.
Tested by Jeff Donald.
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