Thursday, October 19, 2006

Chestnuts - Marrons

One market stall has extra-special products you don't find in most others, porcinis, chanterelles, quince apples and these extra large chestnuts. I guess the premium ones are called "marroni" (like the French "marrons") while the smaller chestnuts are "castagne". You see some of these still encased in their prickly covers. They're pretty, but brutally pointy!

On a recent hike in southern Switzerland, Gabriel picked a bunch of smaller chestnuts. When they fall from the trees, you have to step on them to get the painfully pointy cover off. Actually, on the way we passed through a town where aome men had organized an outdoor charcoal pit and were roasting about 1,000 chestnuts on it. Two of the men would get on either side of the roasting pan, take the long handles and shake the chestnuts up for even cooking. I smelled really really fall. Know what I mean? When we got home, I decided to boil my chestnuts since I thing it's easier to get theshells off that way. I made an x-shaped score in them with a knife and boiled them for 5-10 minutes (some were bigger than others and needed more cooking. After eating a couple, I remembered just how great they are with vanilla. I figured if I made caramel, added vanilla and then folded in the chestnuts, the result would be great! I followed this recipe which is full of hard, scientific information about how hard the caramel will be when cooked to different temperatures, why you should not stir the caramel, why you should wash down the sides of the pan, etc. It does not say anything about putting nuts in caramel or about what happens when you do. So I cooked the sugar, corn syrup and cream to actually over the prescribed 250F (the hard ball stage) and poured the caramel onto my marble pastry slab, mixed in the chestnut pieces and put everything in a square buttered cake pan to cool. Well, it's cool now. It's runny, almost like ice-cream topping and certainly nothing I could cut and wrap as candies. I'm thinking that the chestnuts, that really seemed dry and starchy, had enough moisture to make this too liquidy. Darn! At least it tastes good even if I do have to eat it with a spoon. As Julia Child said, cooking is great since you can eat your mistakes!


Anonymous Ellie said...

I went chestnut-gathering through the mountains in Korea and I remember the two foot slide to get their prickly skins off :) Nothing like a fresh, sweet, crunchy chestnut!

Sorry to hear that the caramel didn't work out, but Julia Child is right - just because it didn't work as planned still means you can enjoy it :)

10:32 PM  
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3:03 AM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi Ellie, What might a Korean chestnut recipe be like? Are they used in savory dishes?

10:01 AM  
Blogger hellomelissa said...

mmm, chestnuts! mmmm! fall smells! you're so lucky to get chestnuts. here, we can buy them but because of the chestnut blight in the last century, almost all the trees are gone.

12:37 PM  
Blogger rowena said...

You know, that looks just beautiful and I'm thinking that anyone who has access to free or cheap chestnuts must be going crazy with recipes! My husband's colleague gave me about a kilo of shelled, roasted chestnuts which I was going to turn into marron glace somehow...but...I completely forgot them on the stove and they turned burned! Acch!

RYC: The sweet/savory is right in the middle. The first time I used milk chocolate (too weak and too sweet). 2nd time it was 100% massa chocolate whatever (whoa, was it bitter!). Semi-sweet or bittersweet seems to be j-u-u-u-s-t right!

2:04 PM  
Blogger Lea said...

haha gotta love Julia! Why not put it in little jars and give it as gifts as a topping?

2:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahaha...italian chestnut recipes. More please as I have just stooped over and picked up about a bushel of them. I don't know exactly what a bushel amounts to but it's the full of a two handled basket. NOW I read that they should be consumed fresh within a week. Maybe I should just freeze them for Christmas time.

4:22 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Melissa, I heard that too, that American chestnut trees were all but wiped out in the 1800s. Do you know why?

Rowena, Sorry about the burned chestnuts. Have you made marrons glacees before?

Lea, I've been scooping the stuff up with a spoon and eating it for the past 2 days. I'm on a helluva sugar buzz!

June, That's a LOT of chestnuts! Whatever you do, (I say marrons glacees) you should get as many friends as possible to help you shell them. With my meager 1 lb, my thumb nails hurt by the end.

8:43 PM  
Blogger hellomelissa said...

thanks to wikipedia...

"The American Chestnut, formerly one of the dominant trees of the eastern United States, has been almost wiped out by a fungal disease, chestnut blight, Cryphonectria parasitica. The American chinkapins are also very susceptible to chestnut blight. The European and west Asian Sweet Chestnut is susceptible, but less so than the American, and the east Asian species are resistant. These resistant species, particularly Japanese Chestnut and Chinese Chestnut but also Seguin's Chestnut and Henry's Chestnut, have been used in breeding programs in the US to create hybrids with the American chestnut that are also disease resistant."

there we go!

1:52 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Thanks Melissa. I like finding out about these things. Apparently an American grape variety was the cause of and solution to a European grape blight. Exposure to the American grapes brought a disease the Eurpoean varieties weren't resistant to and grafting the European varieties on to this Amrican one largely solved the problem.

12:57 PM  
Anonymous Ellie said...

Hi Susan - just saw the question now :) there are a few dishes in Korean cuisine which feature chestnuts but unfortunately don't make them a star player. They're mostly used in dishes which are meant to have some degree of medicinal value :)

My fave way of having chestnuts was one my grandmother used to feed me as a kid - roasted chestnuts mushed up with a little honey and milk to make a smooth mash, yum!

5:05 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Oh, sweet, milky chestnut puree sounds great. (With a little vanilla, maybe)

8:54 PM  

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