Going abit nutty can really be a good thing. I’ve got two terrific nut recipes to share with you from my wintry days in Rome. As the temperature continues to drop, I can highly recommend heading straight for your kitchen. My farm kitchen at Weka Weka is a refuge of guaranteed winter warmth. Home fires burning, hearty meals on dark, chilly evenings.
Roasted Chestnuts (le castagne arrosto) also known as marrone
The easiest and tastiest way to enjoy chestnuts is roasted on the stovetop in your oldest frypan. All you need are a few brown paper bags.
Ingredients - Fresh Chestnuts, as many as you like
Method - Using a sharp knife, bang a small cross on the top skin of each chestnut (the round part), not too deep, just a few millimetres. Place them flat in a frypan, cut side down. Wet several brown paper bags and lay on top. The aim being to cover the nuts with one layer of wet paper to seal them and give moisture while cooking. Occasionally shake the pan gently and cook until almost starting to burn, approximately 10 minutes. Re-wet the paper bags as needed to retain moisture. Remove from flame; turn the nuts over to cook for a few minutes longer on their flat side. Cool a little, only enough to break open without burning the skin off your fingers! Peel and enjoy immediately. They’re much easier to peel when warm not cooled. Never forget to slit your nuts - they will explode. Trust me on this one.
The re-appearance of chestnuts in our fruit shops and markets each year is a joyous sight. I mean no offence to our marvellous macadamia, a proud Queenslander that falls freely in my own backyard. However, the chestnuts we are receiving from our southern neighbours are great. It doesn’t really matter what crazy price these smooth, brown nuts might be fetching. Only a few big handfuls are all that’s required to shift your shivers and warm your kitchen.
Peeling hot chestnuts with a loved one is like putting match to a flame. It’s the perfect conversation starter. Marvellous how the simplest of foods transports us back, often to foreign places and with all our senses. The woody scent of chestnuts roasting returns me to foggy Italian roadsides in Abruzzo. To the blackened hands of cheery chestnut vendors on snowy European street corners. Coned paper-bags steaming fragrantly.
There are more than 300 chestnut growers in Australia producing around 1,200 tonnes annually, 80% coming from north-eastern Victoria. The good news is that crops will increase considerably in the next ten years due to large plantings fifteen years ago. Depending on the variety, most nuts drop from mid March to early May. Devour them while they last. And don’t worry about their size. As I often tell my youngest daughter, good things come in small packages – the smaller ones are often the sweetest.
Butterfly pasta with cream of walnut sauce (farfalle con crema di noci e panna)
Here’s a slow food recipe I enjoy cooking for all the family. I use the term ‘slow food’ because the sauce is most delicious when you take the time to peel the skins off the walnuts. Best achieved with some patience and covering them in boiling water for a few minutes to loosen their thin brown skins OR lightly roasting them and rubbing them in a tea towel.
Serves 6 Prep time: 30 minutes Cooking time: 10-12 minutes for the pasta only. The sauce just needs warming and tossing through the hot pasta.
Ingredients - Sauce: 300 grams of fresh aussie walnuts, lightly roasted and shelled ❤ 180 grams of gorgonzola cheese ❤ 8 fresh basil leaves ❤ 1 large ripe vine ripened tomato ❤ 2 large sprigs of fresh italian parsley ❤ 1 red chilli ❤ 4 tablespoons of cream ❤ extra virgin olive oil ❤ a packet of barilla farfalle butterfly pasta or your favourite fresh pasta
Method - Remove the skin off the walnuts and place them in a food processor. Boil salted water for the pasta and cook as directed. Chop Gorgonzola into small pieces and place in the food processor with the nuts. Add the remaining ingredients; herbs, chilli, skinned tomato, dash of olive oil and cream. Blend all the ingredients together until the mix becomes a rich paste. Gently warm the amount of sauce you desire in a saucepan over low heat. Add the pasta, toss together and serve. Any leftover sauce can be refrigerated for later in the week.
I buy fresh winter nuts from my green grocer or local farmers markets. In Brisbane I used to get them from the neither fancy nor trendy melting pot that is Mt Gravatt Farmers & Flea Markets. On at the Showgrounds each Sunday. If you’ve ever doubted the cosmopolitan makeup of Brisbane, spend an hour wandering here. Stallholders from around the globe are great storytellers, there’s row upon row of growers and sellers and the choice of fruit and veg is quite overwhelming. Everything is at least a dollar or two a kilo lower than the shops. The flowers are fabulous. Café lattes and Char Siu pork, Indian curry puffs and Dutch pancakes, all rub shoulders together. The free-range egg man clucks for his customers. The Stanthorpe apples are super crisp, just how we remember them from childhood. As for the jolly Hungarian langos man with the skillet, fried garlic bread and pokey felt hat – he’s a ridgy didge classic straight out of Budapest.
Unlike the langos, chestnuts contain no cholesterol and are low in sodium, kilojoules and fat. They are rich in mineral salts and a good source of vitamin C, B1, B2 and folates. Walnuts contain those all-important omega-3 fatty acids.
Here in the Gold Coast Hinterland our winter can only be described as superb. You can count the foggy grey days on one hand for the entire year. It’s well worth a Sunday drive to explore. If staying in - why not cook?! cuddle up and generate some warmth amongst your family. Enjoy your weekend.