It has been chestnut season here in Victoria and we recently bought some beautiful fresh chestnuts at Toscano’s, our favourite supplier of fruit and vegetables.
Many of the chestnuts available in Melbourne are grown in the north-east of Victoria, where Italian migrants settled many decades ago and began to grow plants and animals in accordance with their own traditions. (Some of them used to grow tobacco too but, thankfully, that has been replaced with Italian grape varieties such as Sangiovese.)
Our main source of ideas on how to cook with chestnuts is Patrizia Simone (I mention her book in the page on ‘Sources of recipes and cooking advice’). Patrizia and her husband George migrated from Umbria early in their married life and eventually settled in the same district as the chestnut growers, etc. Her eponymous restaurant is famed throughout the land, although her son has now taken control while Patrizia and George enjoy a more relaxed semi-retirement.
The first recipe we tried, early in chestnut season, was for ricotta and chestnut gnocchi with hazelnuts, sage and brown butter. We had to modify the method a little – sometimes there is a world of difference between what works in a commercial kitchen and what works at home – but the result was delicious. We will make it again soon, incorporating some further modifications; I will put up a post, including some photos.
Last week, we used Patrizia’s recipe for chestnut and ricotta cappellacci with lamb ragu. The chestnuts were at their peak with lots of ripe, earthy flavour. For this dish, they are first roasted but for less time than usual so the flesh stays firm. Then they are cooked in milk with some rosemary leaves and fennel seeds until they are tender; the cooked nuts are mashed with some ricotta and seasoning to make a filling.
In her recipe, Patrizia fills the pasta by hand. There is a good reason for that, as we discovered when we tried to put the filling into ravioli using our pasta machine. The filling was a bit dry for this method, so the machine struggled to fill the ravioli fully. For the second batch, shown on the right of the photo, we added a little milk to the filling and it worked pretty well, enough to encourage us to do it again next season.
The ragu was relatively simple – just some beautiful diced lamb from Ashburton Quality Meats, trimmed flat pancetta, garlic, a glug of white wine and a generous amount of tomato passata. The result was delicious and the leftovers yielded a workday-lunch for each of us.
There was some ricotta leftover, we had some creamed cheese in the fridge and some cooking apples in the fruit bowl, so I suggested we make a cheesecake according to a favourite recipe of mine in the Australian Women’s Weekly Italian Cookbook. It is made in a sweet, lemony shortcrust pastry case lined with slices of apple; mixed peel and chopped raisins are added to the filling to add further complexity (today’s euphemism for “is it okay to have a second slice?”).
All in all, a very satisfying afternoon in our kitchen.