When I see fresh chestnuts at the farmer's market or in the produce aisle, I can't resist: I buy a bag. They remind me of the "chestnut fair" ("la vogue des marrons"), a traveling carnival that takes place every fall atop the Croix Rousse hill in Lyon. Amidst the noisy, flashy rides and cotton candy vendors are fire-roasted chestnut vendors. They roast fresh chestnuts from Ardèche, the nearby producing region, in big barrels over a crackling and smoking wood fire. They serve the hot, blackened chestnuts in cones made of newspaper. You warm up your hands by holding the cone for a few minutes, then shell the chestnuts one by one, trying not to burn your fingers, and eat them while still steamy. What a treat.
Chestnuts also remind me of Christmas meals. Chestnut-stuffed roast turkey, served with sautéed apples and more chestnuts, is one of the traditional Christmas dishes in my family. Here is a recipe for the stuffing, adapted from my 1991 Larousse de la Cuisine.
The recipe is for a 9-lb (4-kg) turkey. Since this attempt was just for fun (and for the 4 of us), I didn't buy a whole turkey but two drumsticks, and baked the stuffing (or dressing, rather) around them. The turkey pieces were simply seasoned with salt and pepper and brushed with sunflower oil. I baked them for about one hour at 350ºF (180ºC), adding the dressing about 20 minutes before the end.
- one bag fresh chestnuts (1.6 lbs or 740 g)
- 4 strips bacon, diced
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 1 thin, boneless pork chop (about 1/3 lb or 150 g), diced
- 1 apple (Pink Lady for example), thinly sliced
- salt, freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pinch freshly grated nutmeg, 2 whole cloves, 1 pinch ground cinnamon
- Cut a cross into each chestnut with a sharp, pointy knife.
- Roast the chestnuts on a cookie sheet, cross facing up, in a 450ºF (230ºC) oven for about 30 minutes. Let them cool down a little then peel them (use your hands to break the shells and remove them). Crumble the chestnuts between your hands or chop them coarsely with a chef's knife.
- Fry the diced bacon and chopped onion in a pan for a few minutes.
- Add the diced pork and cook for a few more minutes.
- Add the apple slices. Season with salt and spices. Toss well. Cook for a few minutes.
- Remove from the heat and toss in the crumbled chestnuts.
- Use as turkey or chicken stuffing, or bake separately as dressing for 20 minutes.