Sunday, November 19, 2006

Quintessential Fall Flavors – WHB

Fall, crisp cool mornings with steaming cups of hot black coffee, the dog tracking footprints from the lawn thick with glistening dew throughout the house, and depositing piles of beautiful colored leaves caught in his ever-thickening fur on every chair and sofa. What could say fall more than all that? Don’t ya just love it?!

Also in season are chestnuts. One of my favorite nuts. Difficult, yes. Temperamental, I’ll give you that. But bursting with a unique combination of nuttiness and sweetness that you just don’t find in any other nut.

The trick to chestnuts is to buy them fresh, refrigerate them immediately, as they spoil very quickly, and learning the subtleties of getting the peel and inner skin off the nut before you lose your sanity.

I learned to love chestnuts in Munich, where, as in most European cities in winter, chestnuts are sold in little paper bags by street vendors freshly roasted. All you have to do is find a way to get the peel off with your gloves on. The gloves help in the sense that the chestnuts are usually (not always!) still hot, but hinder in that it is that much harder to get the thin papery inner peel off if the roasting process has not loosened it sufficiently. There was always a certain proportion that had to be tossed.

At home, the main difficulty is finding a fresh chestnut. They appear around November and December in stores, then are gone. Whether the store has actually kept the chestnut in reasonable condition prior to your purchase of it is another question. The best idea is to get the fresh chestnuts right into the fridge as soon as possible, and use them as quickly as possible. The fresher, the better.

Roasting them is not so hard, just 20 minutes at 400ºF will usually roast them sufficiently that the outer and inner peel will come off with relative ease. I have learned that no matter what technique you use to roast them, there will be some that just cannot be peeled. And I have learned to accept this as the price of enjoying fresh chestnuts as opposed to (shudder!) canned.

Since chestnuts have a natural sweetness to them, which the roasting process accentuates, I like to build on that. Whether in chestnut soup, maybe chestnuts and Brussels sprouts in bacon and maple syrup, or simply, as today, chestnuts caramelized in butter and sugar.

The chestnuts today are the eye candy to a really tasty pasta sauce based on a kobasha squash and sage mixture. The kobasha squash has a dark green outer peel, which is very tough, hiding a bright orange inner flesh. When cooked down a bit, it is sweeter and more flavorful than most other types of squashes, in my opinion. It harmonizes well with sage and nutmeg.

So this week, we made Pasta with Kobacha and Sage Sauce with Caramelized Chestnuts. For , sponsored this week by Nandita of .

With the natural earthy sweetness of the creamy kobacha and sage sauce, the caramelized chestnuts not only complement it wonderfully, but they make for a very dramatic presentation.

As usual, we put this on top of some whole grain pasta. Which only adds to the earthy and nutty flavors of the dish as a whole.

A very flavorful way to incorporate some of the seasonally fresh elements available only at this time of year!

Print Recipe

Pasta with Kobacha and Sage Sauce and Caramelized Chestnuts
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 4 as main course

1 large kobacha squash, cut into sections, peeled, and flesh cubed
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
2 leeks, cleaned, white part chopped
Salt and pepper
1 bay leaf
1 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
6 fresh sage leaves, cut in thin strips
4 cups chicken broth
Sage leaves, sliced thin, for garnish
1 ½ pounds pasta (we used whole wheat fettuccini)
Caramelized chestnuts, for garnish (recipe follows)

Place the olive oil and leeks in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. When the leeks begin to color, add the squash and season with salt and pepper. Sauté 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, to lightly caramelize the surface of the cubes. Add the bay leaf, nutmeg, sage, and about 3 cups of the chicken broth. Cover the pan and cook until the squash is tender but still holding its shape, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Puree the sauce in a food processor in batches. Reheat the sauce in the skillet, adding additional chicken broth to thin the sauce to the desired pasta sauce consistency.
Bring salted water to a boil in a large pot, and cook pasta per package directions. Drain well.
Serve the pasta with the kobacha and sage sauce, placing several caramelized chestnuts on top, and sprinkling the pasta sauce with the slivered sage leaves. Enjoy!

Caramelized chestnuts

1 pound whole fresh chestnuts in the shell
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. With a paring knife, score the bottom of each chestnut with an "x". Roast the cut chestnuts on a baking sheet for 20 minutes. Remove chestnuts from oven and wrap in a dishtowel until cool enough to handle. Peel off chestnut shells, including the inner membrane. In a large sauté pan, melt the butter and add the chestnuts. Cook over a low flame for about 5 minutes. Once evenly browned, add the sugar and toss. Allow to caramelize for another 5 to 6 minutes.

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Blogger Kalyn said...

Very fabulous. Can you believe I've never tasted chestnuts?

7:17 PM  
Blogger surfindaave said...

Kalyn, thanks! Chestnuts have a very characteristic flavor and texture, quite sweet for a nut. I love them, especially roasted and made into soups, or a chestnut mousse as part of a dessert. There's a reason all those songs were written about chestnuts! Worth trying!

11:16 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

I love chestnuts! I even have a tree - but it's a baby and so are the nuts... And I love sage...and squash (H---, I love food...)
This sounds like a wonderful combination, esp. the caramelized chestnuts....

1:58 AM  
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11:10 PM  
Blogger Kalyn said...

Ok, I am back. What do I have to do to entice you to tell me how you're doing this cool "print recipe" thing. I must have this for my blog too! It's beyond awesome.

9:55 PM  
Anonymous Generic Viagra said...

Excellent, thanks for recipe, I had a little party last weekend and I just made something simple because I couldn't find something else to make.

9:30 AM  

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