Ever since Paris, chestnuts have been that dreamy food that instantly evokes wintertime. Like hot dogs or pretzels are to New York City, chestnuts are to Paris, dotting every corner when you begin to see your breath. Sean shared this celebratory recipe to get us in the holiday spirit. Go roast some chestnuts, okay? xo-Maggie
Chestnuts are a bit of a culinary mystery. There’s plenty of talk about them near Christmas, but they are rarely seen as an actual ingredient. Yes, roasting them over an open fire is one of the simple pleasures of winter, but that is not all they’re good for.
A few years ago, I stayed in a converted chestnut mill in Italy. As it was high in the mountains, the harsh terrain meant cereal grains couldn’t grow; instead, they relied on chestnuts. The Italians treat them as a staple, and I found it as a main component in breads, cakes, mousses, soups, pesto, stews, risottos, tortes and tarts.
In the UK, we have two kinds of chestnut trees – one produces inedible conkers, best used for schoolyard games. However, the other is the sweet chestnut. Both are common, found in woodlands, hedgerows, parks and even along the sidewalks. Last week a friend and I went out to the woods to pick fresh chestnuts off the trees.
I loved wading through the crispy leaves, amidst fading orange hues that glowed in the low winter sun. The fallen chestnuts stand out in the foliage like baby green hedgehogs and we collect them up with thumb and forefinger to avoid the spikes.
Getting into a chestnut is no easy feat and I always get the sense that the chestnut really doesn’t want to be eaten. The spiky exterior makes for tricky foraging, but even underneath that, the hard outer shell needs to be sliced, baked and then peeled. It takes time, but preparing fresh chestnuts is worth the work; they have a far superior flavor; smoky and almost hazelnut-y, but store-bought ones are perfectly adequate prepared if pushed for time.
This savory tart tatin is a balancing act, caught between the sweetness of the pears and chestnuts and the saltiness of the blue cheese. Sometimes an extra drizzle of honey may be needed (even a sprinkle of sugar) if the pears are not bursting with sweetness. It’s a matter of preference, but you can avoid this by using sweet, sweet pears.
To perfectly set the tart off, I suggest a bitter chicory salad or a pile of super peppery wild rocket. I love a rippled white and purple radicchio drizzled with walnut oil and sherry vinegar, with maybe a few chopped walnuts.
I like this tart because it’s so different, but still feels very seasonal and Christmas-like. It’s indulgent (pears… blue cheese… chestnuts), but not too much work in the end, and you need a few of those simple but stunning dishes up your sleeve around Christmas time.
The tatin is quite a rich dish, so it works best as a starter or part of a buffet table.
Chestnut Pear Tatin
- 3 or 4 medium pears, unripe
- 8 ounces puff pastry, store-bought and thawed to package's instructions
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 sprigs lemon thyme
- 1/3 cup chopped chestnuts (roasted and peeled)
- 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1/2 cup or 5 ounces blue cheese
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
- Peel, half and core the pears and leave to dry out for a few hours. They may go brown, but that’s absolutely fine, they’re going to be cooked anyway.
- Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface and cut to the size of your ovenproof frying pan or skillet – ideally about 12 inches- then refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut the pears in the quarters, and then cut each quarter into three slices lengthways.Heat the butter over a low heat with the thyme. As it melts, add the pears in a single layer, creating a flower shape in the pan. Cook the pears for 10 to 15 minutes, turning up the heat halfway through.
- Add the chestnuts and walnuts and then drizzle the honey all over and season the whole lot. Crumble half the blue cheese all around the pears and then lay the pastry over the filling. Tuck the pastry in at the sides and then with a fork, poke a few small holes in the pastry.
- Bake for about 15 minutes and then remove the tart from the oven. Place a plate that’s big enough to hold the tart over the skillet and flip it over so that the skillet is face down. The plate should catch the tart. Rearrange the pears if any have moved, so that you get the flower effect.
- Put the tart back into the skillet face up this time, and add the rest of the cheese and the sherry vinegar. Put it back in the oven for 5 minutes, or until the cheese is just starting to melt.
- Remove and portion up. A really bitter, chicory salad is almost an essential partner to this tart.
Eat Boutique was an award-winning shop and story-driven recipe site created by Maggie Battista – an author, business guide and alignment seeker. After hosting retail markets for 25,000+ guests, Maggie now supports entrepreneurs as they create values-based businesses through We Are Magic Studio. Follow Maggie Battista on Instagram.