The smell of chestnuts roasting reminds me of when I lived in Italy as a child. I have a vivid memory of a frosty winter night, Christmas shopping with the family, all rugged up in coats, hats and scarves and the piazza bright with Christmas lights. I remember walking past vendors roasting chestnuts in the cold evening air, selling them still warm in brown paper cones. I came across the same delicious smell a few weeks ago at the local Farmer’s Market. There was a stall where they were roasting chestnuts in a pan on a gas stove to give to customers to taste. It was a great selling strategy as everyone who tasted them was queuing to buy them. I tasted one – it was nutty and sweet with that typical floury texture and brought back such strong memories of my childhood, Christmas lights and winter evenings in Italy.
There are lots of chestnut trees in Northern Italy so we have a great fondness for the humble chestnut – eating them roasted, boiled, beaten into a paste or dried and made into a flour that then is used to make cakes such as Castagnaccio. My blogger friend Ambra, a Triestina, in her blog The Good, the Bad and the Italian writes about a chestnut she carried in her coat pocket for 24 years. Clearly we Northeners a have a thing for chestnuts. Roasting them is easy – over an open fire is ideal, or else on a stove top (in a frypan which has holes drilled into it), under a grill or in the oven. Remember to score the skin if you don’t want them to explode whilst cooking and buy the easy peel varieties if you can.
I always have chestnut flour in the pantry. The imported variety is available seasonally – it is produced in the Italian winter so more readily available in the Australian summer. Italian supplies do dwindle after a while, so I tend to buy up big around January. However you can buy Australian chestnut flour online in the Australian winter here. I love using chestnut flour to make pasta. The sweet nutty flavor that the chestnut flour gives to the pasta marries beautifully with mushrooms. I add dried porcini to the sauce, which adds a complex depth of flavour, and use a variety of fresh mushrooms – the more varieties the merrier, and cooking them in a good dose of white wine. I am drinking Nebbiolo at the moment – so a glass of red would be just right with this lovely wintery meal.
Tagliatelle di castagne con funghi e timo
Chestnut tagliatelle with mushrooms and thyme
280g 00 flour
120g chestnut flour
4 medium sized eggs
2 cloves garlic, crushed
750g mushrooms (combination Field and Swiss Brown)
10g dried Porcini mushrooms
1/2 glass dry white wine
3-4 sprigs thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmigiano cheese to serve
EVOO to serve
To make the pasta, add the first three ingredients into a food processor and process until a rough ball forms. Remove from the processor and knead a few minutes. Shape into a ball and rest in cling film for at least 30 minutes (up to 4 hours is ok). Make pasta sheets in a pasta machine using the process described in this post. Cut into tagliatelle or fettuccine using the machine or by hand, dust well with flour and cover with a clean tea towel until ready to use.
Make the sauce whilst the pasta dough is resting. Start off by soaking the porcini in a small bowl of warm water so that they are just covered. Set aside. Heat up some olive oil in a large sized frypan and add the garlic. Cook until fragrant at medium heat and add the fresh mushrooms. Cook for a minute or two, stirring frequently, then add the white wine. Allow the wine to evaporate then lower the heat. When it is starting to look a bit dry, maybe after ten or so minutes, add the drained chopped porcini. Reserve the liquid and add most of it to the pan (taking care not to add the soil that has come off the porcini at the bottom of the bowl) and add the thyme, reserving some to the side as garnish. Place a lid on the pan and simmer whilst you are making the pasta, checking every five minutes to give it a bit of a stir. It takes around half an hour to cook, it will be ready when nearly all the liquid has been absorbed. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water – make sure you have plenty of water so the pasta does not stick together. It will take a few minutes to cook, depending on how thick you make the pasta – keep tasting it until it is cooked to your satisfaction. Drain and spoon on the sauce. Drizzle on a bit of extra virgin olive oil, add parmigiano and garnish with reserved thyme.