Jacob Kenedy's chestnut recipes (2024)

What could be more autumnal than the chestnut? It seems strange that we eat so little of such an important ingredient, and one so imbued with symbolic meaning. When do most of us eat them, other than those simultaneously raw and burnt nuts we get in a street-roaster's paper cone? Or the occasional marron glacé, as sickly as it is delicious.

In Italy they are more commonplace, but just as offal fell out of fashion in postwar Britain (it became synonymous with food for hard times), so chestnuts in Italy are maligned as the food of the poor. In northern Italy they were once the staple starch for those who could afford nothing else and today often suffer the same stigma. It is ashame, as chestnuts add variety to our staples of wheat, rice, potato and corn. And we are poorer without them than with.

Chestnut straccetti with chestnut mushrooms and chestnuts

Straccetti, Italian for "little rags", isthe easiest pasta to make at home, and is best with the heartiest of sauces. This is mountain fare – the warm cushion it provides against acold autumn or winter's day will last a lifetime… on the hips.

Serves 4-5 as a main, 8 as a starter

For the pasta:
chestnut flour 150g
Italian 00 flour (or plain) 300g, plus alittle extra for rolling
eggs 5 large or 6 medium

For the sauce:
guanciale or pancetta 100g, cut into 5mm x 5mm lardons (or 100g bacon lardons)
butter 75g
chestnuts 200g, whole cooked (vacuum packed are best), cut into 5mm slices
sage leaves 30
chestnut mushrooms 300g, cut into 5mm slices
double cream 100ml
flat-leaf parsley a handful, chopped
parmesan 150g, grated

Jacob Kenedy's chestnut recipes (1)

To make the pasta, bring together the two flours with the eggs to make asoft dough, then knead for a good 10 minutes. Roll it out until it is about 2mm thick (like a tuppenny piece), then lay it out to partially dry for about 20 minutes. Cut it into rough shapes – triangles, rhombi and trapezoids – each one between 1-6cm wide and 5-15cm long. Imagine the skin of Edward Scissorhands's lover.

Bring a large pan of well-salted water to the boil. Fry the pancetta in a wide pan over a high heat until it is well browned. Add the butter and chestnuts and fry for a good 5 minutes until the nuts are crispy and browned on the edges. Add the sage leaves, fry for 2 more minutes, then add the mushrooms. Keep the heat high and stir occasionally. As the mushrooms start to brown convincingly, start cooking the pasta in the boiling salted water. It will take just 2 minutes to be firm and al dente.

While it's boiling, cook the mushrooms for another minute then add the cream, parsley, a third of the parmesan and enough ladlefuls of thepasta water to make an emulsified sauce by shaking the pan. Drain the pasta, stir it into the sauce over the heat and, when well coated, serve with the remaining cheese on top.

Quail with chestnuts

My grandmother Ginny used to make an almost identical dish of veal with chestnuts. It was my favourite, and always served with soft, buttery golden polenta. Then BSE came along and my mum became infected with a particularly virulent strain of hysterical hypochondriacal paranoia – she wouldn't let any of us within 100 yards of anything bovine (judging by my current condition, she may not only have been right but far too late). At any rate Ginny humoured her, and thus veal became quail and the recipe, I think, improved.

My grandmother doesn't cook this recipe any more. In fact she doesn't cook at all any more. She will turn 100 in February and she no longer feels the need to conceal her age ("I'm in my 100th year!"), nor does she feel any urge to set foot in the kitchen. That duty has passed to me.

Jacob Kenedy's chestnut recipes (2)

Serves 4

quail 8 whole birds (or 4 whole partridge;or 1 large chicken, jointed; or 2 pheasants, jointed)
olive oil 2 tbsp
onions 2 medium, finely chopped
celery 3 sticks, finely chopped
garlic 2 cloves, chopped
sage 6 leaves, chopped
bay leaves 3
butter 50g
chicken stock 400ml, dark
white wine 400ml, or dry marsala, or amixture of the two
chestnuts 400g, cooked, peeled (vacuum packed are best), whole and separate

Season the quail with salt and pepper and brown them very well in the oil, in a wide pan, over a medium to high heat. It will take a good 15-20 minutes to get them chestnut brown on all sides. Remove them from the pan, and to the remaining oil add the onion, celery, garlic, bay, sage and butter. Season with a good pinch of salt and pan-fry over a medium heat until very soft and lightly browned.

Return the quail to the pan (arrange them nicely, breasts up) and add the wine. Bring it to a boil, add the stock, then simmer (lid on) for 15 minutes.

Nestle the chestnuts between the birds, cover again with the lid and cook for 30 minutes more. Control the heat such that the liquor ends up as thick as pouring cream.

Take it off the heat and leave to rest for 15 minutes before serving.

Cabbage with new season's olive oil

New season's olive oil (we're talking extra virgin here) starts in the autumn. It's pungently green, peppery and aromatic. Most shops spend winter selling out of their oldstock of last season's oil before they get on to the current one, so to find the new season's oil at its youngest you will need to ask for it. Paired with the earthy, sweet and green tones of cabbage it is nothing short of symphonic.

Serves 4

savoy 1, or 2 spring cabbages, coarsely shredded
olive oil 5 tbsp new-season oil
flat-leaf parsley a very small handful, chopped
lemon juice of half

Boil the cabbage in plenty of well-salted (12g salt/litre) water until joyously tender – about 5 minutes. Any hint of crunch should be gone, with just a little bite to satisfy the naysayers. Drain it very well – any residual water will wash out the oil – and shake it in a colander until not another drop yields. Dress the cabbage with the oil, parsley and lemon juice and serve it immediately.

Montebianco

This is my dad's recipe, and it is utterly delicious. It has far more booze, more cocoa and more chestnutin it than any other recipe I've seen. He serves it with stewed raspberries; I use blackberries, as they feel more seasonally harmonious with chestnuts.

Serves 4

For the blackberry sauce:
blackberries 200g
caster sugar 30g

For the whipped cream:
whipping cream 160ml
caster sugar 1 tbsp

For the montebianco:
chestnuts 300g, cooked, peeled (vacuum packed are best)
caster sugar 130g
cocoa powder 100g
dark rum 75ml

Cook the blackberries and sugar together over a medium heat in asmall pan, until the blackberries make a syrup but remain more or lesswhole, then chill until needed.

Whip the cream and sugar togetherinto soft peaks and then refrigerate.

Combine all the ingredients for themontebianco in the food processor and blend to make asmooth paste. Refrigerate until you're ready to serve.

To assemble the dish, press the montebianco paste through amouliwith medium (2-3mm) holesto make little worms. Allowthem to fall from the mouli into aroughly conical pile in the centreofa plate. Mound the creamontop like thesnow on MontBlanc. Arrange theblackberriesaround the edgesofthe pile anddrizzle theirscarce syrup overthe top forasplashof colour.

Jacob Kenedy returns next week

Jacob Kenedy's chestnut recipes (2024)

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