Newport chef Jamie Scott celebrates autumn – and Bonfire Night – by getting creative with chestnuts and chilli
ith autumn truly upon us now with its darker mornings and earlier evenings, I always find myself out foraging for the normal treasures: mushrooms, sorrel, cob nuts and – my favourite – chestnuts.
Chestnuts play a prominent role in history and cooking with stories of an entire Greek army in 400Bs snacking on them during an invasion of Asia, right up until early 18th Century France and their famous Christmas cake, the marron glacé – a candied chestnut involving 16 different processes in a typically French cooking style.
Nowadays you can get two types of chestnuts all year round from the supermarket – a sweet chestnut puree or cooked vac-packed chestnuts. Both are absolutely lovely and, with a little care, equally usable and delicious.
From now until January you might also manage to get a hold of raw chestnuts, available in net bags for a couple of pounds or so.
But if you use foraged ones, please wash before use in case an animal has been looking before you.
The best way to prepare them is to blanch them in salted boiling water for 30 seconds or so, allow to cool slightly and then, using a small paring knife, peel the dark brown shin off to reveal a beautiful sweet yellow-white coloured centre.
Now you can roast them as they are with some rapeseed oil, salt and pepper, or thinly slice them and have them on some pasta. Or why not candy them for a dessert in some sugar and water?
My personal favourite is actually using the pre-cooked ones as they have a really nice sweetness and soft texture. Roughly chop them, caramelise in a pan until crispy, add the chopped chestnuts and a knob of butter, then add a good handful of shredded Brussels sprouts and a splash of water. Cover with a lid and cook for 5 minutes, then season with salt and pepper. If you want to be extra luxurious, add a splash of double cream.
Chestnut flour is also a firm favourite for us and we often use it for pasta flour for a really rich autumnal tagliatelle, or we use it for our ginger bread for a really nice nutty taste and a buttery texture.
Chef’s tip: For Bonfire Night I like nothing better than eating a delicious bowl of chilli while I watch the fireworks. My recipe is super easy and is really delicious. Chop a whole onion and 4 cloves of garlic as thin as you can, sweat off with a little colour, add a kilo of good quality beef mince and brown all over, beating out the lumps. Add 2 tbsp of hot chilli powder, 1 tbsp cajun seasoning and 1 tbsp ground cumin, then pop in a beef stock cube and 500ml of passata. Simmer until thick and the liquid has been absorbed, then add 1 tin of washed kidney beans and 50g of chopped spring onions. Finally, add 50g very dark chocolate to add a nice sweetness and richness at the end.
Serve with a dollop of sour cream or guacamole and enjoy!