Beneath the spiny burr and under her leathery husk hides a soft fleshy nut, rich in minerals and carbohydrates, and low in fat; perfect for staying fit! What’s more, chestnuts are gluten free. They were considered poor man’s food for a long time, for chestnut bread does not rise, and royalty fed on white bread. But once you’ve tried chestnuts or products made from chestnut flour, you’ll understand that it was royalty that was missing out. You’ll go nuts for chestnuts!
The name “chestnut” is derived from an earlier English term “chesten nut”, which descends from the Old French word “Chastain”, which in modern French means “chataigner”. The French have been nibbling on chestnuts for hundreds and hundreds of years. They’ve perfected the culinary art of chestnut cooking.
There are multitudes of ways to eat chestnuts. Roasted, baked, soup, sweet puree, candied, or dried and milled to make flour for a whole array of cakes and breads. I’ve even encountered chestnut beer!
Chestnut trees thrive on soils derived from granite, sandstone, or schist. Trees can be found at altitudes between 200 and 1000 meters above sea level. They prosper in cool winters and warm summers. Here are three key “chestnut” regions in France and a selection of recipes from each chestnut region.
In 1584, the governor of Genoa, which dominated Corsica, ordered all farmers and landowners to plant four trees yearly, among which a chestnut tree – plus olive, fig and mulberry trees. This allowed the island people to be self-sufficient. The chestnut tree provided wood (energy source) and their chestnuts were a food staple. The land in Corsica is mountainous and wheat cannot be farmed. They grew chestnut trees for the flour for bread. Chestnuts were fed to livestock and they still graze on chestnuts to this day, giving their meat a particular texture and flavor.
Enjoy for yourself a traditional Chestnut dish from Corsica.
Chestnut Polenta from Corsica
This recipe takes only three simple ingredients and a lot of arm strength.
500 grams of chestnut flour
75 cl of water
Boil salted water in a large heavy saucepan. Add the flour and turn with a wooden spoon. Stir on the stove for 20minutes, remove if it starts to scorch. When the mixture forms a ball around the wooden spoon, it’s cooked. Remove and work it a bit.
Sprinkle a tea towel with flour and place the ball on the towel. Cut the ball into four with a thick string (not a knife). The polenta can be served immediately with brocciu (ewe cheese) and Corsican sausage.
Or try it directly on Discover France’s Corsica bike trip. (more info coming soon)
You’ve heard of the diamond of Dordogne (truffles) but have you heard of a second little gem? Their chestnuts are precious. They are a perfect accord with Bordeaux cèpe (bolet) mushrooms.
Cèpe and Chestnut Soup
500 g cepes mushrooms
50g crumbled chestnuts (conserves or already boiled)
5 average potatoes
Sauté cèpes then add crumbled chestnuts and potatoes. Heat 1 and ½ liter of bouillon. Add the above ingredients and cook ¾ hour. Mix and enjoy.
Or try this directly on our Bordeaux Dordogne voyage.
Ardeche is the main producer of chestnuts in France. Chestnuts are a part of their culture. In autumn, it’s the round of Castagnades. This is when each village hosts a fair and get together with mulled wine and roasted chestnuts on an open fire.
You too can roast chestnuts!
To roast chestnuts the brown husk needs to be scored with a knife, otherwise the chestnut will explode. When choosing your chestnuts, look for those that are plump, smooth, shiny, and blemish-free. Choose chestnuts about the same size. Once your chestnuts are clean, dry, and scored, build a warm, cozy fire in the fireplace. Let it burn down so that you have a nice bed of hot embers. Place the prepared chestnuts in an iron skillet preferably a roaster, long handles skillet with holes. Most chestnuts will fully roast after 25 minutes. A chestnut is fully roasted when the shell starts to open where you made the score mark and you start hearing popping noises. You can also check for doneness by piercing a chestnut with a knife; it should be tender. Remove the chestnuts and place them in a towel-lined bowl to cool for about 10 minutes. While they’re still warm, remove the shells. They are delicious just as they are!
Enjoy some delicious chestnuts in Ardeche during a VIP Tour de France voyage. This year the Tour de France arrives in Ardeche during the time trial stage from Bourg St Andeol to the Caverne of Vallon Pont d’Arc.
There are so many ways to dish out chestnuts! Go nuts for chestnuts. The French are!