The food of kings .. or peasants?
Funny thing..Recently, I enjoyed a rather elegant preparation of fowl in one of Atlanta’s swankiest eateries which was accompanied by almost microscopic medallions of vegetable purees piped on the plate – like someone in the kitchen got carried away with a pastry tip and thought they were bestowing something unique and valuable to the dish. A couple of these precious items were root vegetables and then there was the tiny piped CHESTNUT PUREE. I mean – could they spare it?? Why bother? I know, I know – it was an ever so special touch and I should perhaps be grateful for the adornment and bow repeatedly to the most creative artist/chef who put it there for how much $$$$$$$$$$$? NOT! CHESTNUT PUREE is far too wonderful and delicious to distribute it with an eye dropper!
Chestnuts are amazing gifts of nature for sure. There are so many tasty things that can be made with them. However, to behave as if they were as precious in cost and availability as white truffles is really kind of exasperating. I know how easy it is to make a delicious CHESTNUT PUREE, and I am about to take the mystery out of the process. Prepare to despair, O Restaurant of Great Stature! Linda’s Italian Table presents the “reveal”.
I love chestnuts. I love to roast them and eat them. I like to eat them all glazed and oozing with sweetness. I like to include them in many types of cakes and dolci. (Sounding a little like “Sam, I Am” here) My very favorite way to enjoy them, however, is in a savory pureed form which is always the perfect side dish to poultry, game, pork etc. This form is smooth, with just a hint of natural sweetness, and pairs so beautifully with onions and meat drippings. I just love the stuff! It is not expensive to make, and why restaurants choose to treat it like gold and think you are not sophisticated enough to notice is an enigma.
But where do these babies come from? Chestnuts had very early beginnings. In Roman-speak, they go back to the days we studied so diligently in our Latin classes. Pliny and Homer both made mention of them. It is thought that the Roman military brought chestnuts to the rest of Europe while they were busy trampling and conquering it. Even the exalted French secured them from Lombardy for centuries before it dawned on them that they might grow well right there on French soil. Duh!
Peasants or kings? From the early days of chestnut consumption, they were considered a peasant food. Isn’t that always the way it gets started? No one will touch them but the peasants, and then all of a sudden they become the tiny medallions on my dinner plate and are treated like Beluga Caviar. In earlier times though, chestnuts were one of those foods that actually carried the masses through the tougher wintry months. They made all kinds of things with them and even ground them into flour. While the peasants gathered them and prepared them through the years, they gradually became the darlings of the upper classes who came to revere them.
Today: Chestnuts are used in the cuisine of all of the regions of Italy. The Tuscans love them with their game and make their famous bread-like pudding, Castagnaccio, with the chestnut flour. In Southern Italy, they eat them in a similar fashion as we speak of them here in a soft pureed form like polenta. They sometimes add pignolis and raisins to the dish.
This CHESTNUT PUREE is too tasty and too quick and easy not to try. You can even make it a day ahead, if you like. It pairs so beautifully with other root vegetables nestled next to poultry and roasted meats on the plate. Dazzle your family and guests all through the fall and winter and at your holiday tables as a delicious side to your game dishes, duck, chicken, or pork . Be prepared to hear “Chestnut What?”
Prep: 10 min.
Cook: 15 min.
1 14.8 oz (Large) jar roasted chestnuts (Minerve and Williams-Sonoma offer good ones)
1 Large or 2 small Bay Leaves
1 Medium Onion – chopped coarsely
1 c. Chicken Broth
3/4 c. Warmed Milk
3 Tbsp. Butter – softened
Salt and Pepper to taste
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Pour broth into a large saucepan with the bay leaf and add the onions.
Bring to a boil and simmer 3-4 minutes.
Add the chestnuts to the pan. Bring back to the boil and simmer 15 minutes.
Most of the liquid will be absorbed by the chestnuts.
Strain out the excess broth, remove the bay leaf and discard.
Place the chestnuts and onions in the bowl of a food processor while still warm.
Give the mixture 3-4 turns in the processor.
Add the warm milk and process again until smooth.
Add the softened butter and process again until smooth and incorporated.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
So now you have smartly decided to stock up on jars of these little nuggets or bags of the fresh ones, so you can make this all winter. Tell me – is your new favorite side dish, CHESTNUT PUREE? Is it the food of kings or of peasants? You decide!
PARLA COME MANGI!
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Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography