Chestnuts are a great food – they taste lovely roasted, work well with vegetables (chestnuts and Brussels sprouts being the best known combination), and as a puree can be used in sweet or savoury foods. Here in the UK most of the chestnut puree jars I buy are from France, so they haven’t had to travel too far (unlike almonds, cashews or Brazil nuts for example). Although Britain does have many sweet chestnut trees they don’t seem to be commercially harvested. (Don’t get confused with horse chestnut, conkers – not edible!)
Chestnuts are low in fat and have beneficial fibre, as well as calcium, iron and zinc and a bit of protein. This blog post covers two ways to cook with sweet chestnuts, both of which are recipes I’ve had for ages and ages and are really lovely, and pretty simple. If you’re doing Veganuary, trying more plant-based recipes, or are dairy-free, you might want to give these a go.
Sweet chocolate chestnut flan (with ginger or cherries)
When I went to university this was my main ‘fancy’ vegan option, although it is pretty simple. I copied it into my recipe book when I left home and don’t know where my mum had got it from. At uni, some friends asked me to make it for another friend who was just finding out she was dairy intolerant and back then there were no ready-made vegan cake options in the shops, even in the wholefood shops (we’re talking the early/mid 1990s) and very few dairy-free desserts. The original recipe was on a biscuit base (crushed digestives with margarine and syrup) but I changed that for a more natural base (and no palm oil from the biscuits).
- 2-3oz ground almonds (c.70g)
- 2oz mixed nuts/seeds (60g)
- 3 oz dried fruit (any) (90g)
- Splash juice
- 100g bar of relatively high cocoa content dark vegan chocolate (I like 60%+) (150g makes it more chocolatey if you want a richer version)
- 200g chestnut puree (this is flexible, if your jar is 300g, that’s fine, use that! You MAY want to increase the chocolate a little bit as a result though)
- 1-2 tablespoons vegan brandy or ginger wine (or other suitable liqueur) – optional
- 1-2 tablespoons soya/rice/vegan milk
- 50g crystallised ginger chopped into small chunks OR vegan glace cherries chopped into quarters [Don’t buy ones with E120 as that’s cochineal made from crushed beetles – seriously]
- Whiz or blend the nuts and dried fruit to a sticky mixture and press it into a round cake/flan tin (preferably with a loose bottom) and chill it in the ‘fridge.
- Meanwhile, mash up the chestnut puree in a bowl. Or put it in a blender/use a hand whizzer.
- Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of hot water (or, in a bowl in the microwave). Stir the chocolate into the chestnut puree.
- Stir in the brandy/liqueur if using. Add the chopped crystallised ginger or cherries.
- Add the plant milk. Warning – the mix will suddenly stiffen, depending on the plant milk! Quickly spoon this chocolate chestnut mixture onto the base and chill until required.
- Remove from the flan tin and serve.
I’m not a food photographer and it turns out I have no pictures of this flan, other than this one:
My second faithful classic chestnut recipe is simple and savoury: chestnut ‘sausage’ rolls. Great served with vegetables and potatoes (roast, chips, mashed), or eaten on their own as a snack (hot or cold). Again, I’ve had the recipe for ages and I don’t know where it came from, other than my mum!
Chestnut ‘sausage’ rolls
- about 200g chestnut puree
- 1 onion diced small
- 1 clove garlic – diced/crushed
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp soya sauce
- 2 oz / 60g breadcrumbs (or rolled oats)
- about 250g pastry (homemade or bought, puff or flakey if you like!)
- Mash the chestnut puree in a bowl with a fork or hand blender/whizzer.
- Add all the other ingredients and stir well.
- Roll out the pastry into a rectangle or square. Cut 2-3 inch-wide strips and about 4 inches long (5+cm by about 8cm).
- Place a spoonful of the mixture on each strip of pastry, wet one edge with water, and roll up into a sausage roll and press the wet edge of the pastry onto the other bit of pastry. Repeat for the rest of the pastry and mixture. Place on a greased baking tray.
- Bake at about Gas Mark 6 / 200C for about 30mins. Remove from the oven and serve or leave to go cold. Makes about 8 average size sausage rolls.
I don’t have any pictures for this one, so here’s some sweet chestnuts instead!