As a child growing up in England I had hours of fun playing ‘Conkers’. Conkers is a game that involves tying a piece of string to a horse chestnut (or conker) and then smashing the conker of your opponent. The two players take turns until one player’s conker breaks. The first game apparently took place back in 1848 and even today I’d be surprised to hear of conkers being wiped out by iPhones and other gadgets.
The conker comes from the horse chestnut tree; a tree that’s found in abundance all over the UK. Here in Sydney, 17,000 km away, our chestnuts are even more useful – because they’re edible. The chestnut season in Australia runs from March to June. So a couple of weeks ago I bought a big bag at my local farmers market and decided to share some chestnut love here. Before sharing the soup recipe itself I wanted to talk about the nutritional content of chestnuts and how to prepare them.
Chestnuts unlike other nuts contain very little fat or oil. They are:
- Made up of low GI carbohydrates ( 32.1g per 100g)
- Packed with fibre (14.9g per 100g)
- Very low on sugar
- Gluten free
They store well in a plastic bag in the crisper section of your refrigerator for 2-3 weeks.
The 3 steps to prepare chestnuts
1. Cut: Place the chestnut on its flat side and cut or score half way around the nut, piercing both the outer shell and inner skin (use a sharp knife).
2. Cook: You have a few options:
- Roast/bake – cook chestnuts in the oven at 200C until the shells open along the cut (around 15 minutes).
- Microwave – place a single layer of chestnuts in a covered container on high (850 watts) for 2-3 minutes until the shells opens and the flesh is soft.
- Boil/steam – add chestnuts to a pan of cold water or a steamer, cover and bring to the boil, then simmer for 15-20 minutes until shells open.
3. Peel: Use a tea towel to wrap the cooked chestnuts. After a few minutes (while they’re still hot) peel off the outer shell and inner skin.
RECIPE – Chestnut soup with pumpkin or parsnips
Soup is a classic and easy way to hero chestnuts in an Autumn or Winter dish. And chestnuts pair perfectly with pumpkin and parsnips. I choose to make chestnut pumpkin soup, but whether you use pumpkin or parsnips the quantities here serve 2-4 people.
- 300g chestnuts peeled – prepared as per the 3 steps above (equates 500g unpeeled)
- 300g chopped parsnips OR 300g cubed pumpkin (ideally butternut pumpkin)
- 40g butter
- 1 onion, chopped
- Couple of celery stalks, chopped
- 1-2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (depending on how thick you like your soup)
- Salt & pepper
- 100ml to 200ml cream or natural yoghurt
- Pinch of nutmeg
- 1 tbsp fresh herbs chopped – parsley and/or sage
- Melt butter in a large saucepan and sauté the onions and celery.
- Add all of the other ingredients except the cream/yogurt and bring to the boil.
- Reduce to a simmer and cook until the chestnuts and pumpkin/parsnips are soft and tender.
- Process to a purée with a food processor. Check the seasoning and add more salt/pepper as needed.
- Add the cream or yoghurt and reheat the soup to serve.
Optional – reserve a few chopped chestnuts and/or some extra fresh herbs for garnishing
- Red Spanish and Buffalo Queen varieties – better boiled/steamed than roasted
- Purton’s Pride – all-purpose, easy to peel
- De Coppi Marone – easy to peel, rich and sweet flavour
I’d love to hear your favourite chestnut recipes…..
By Laura (Feast Wisely)
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