Today Italy is the third largest producer of chestnuts in the world - and when we see the big sacks of chestnuts from Monte Amiata - at our local veggie pusher - well then there is only one thing to do - fill a big bag and heads straight home and cook some warming and wholesome food.
Chestnuts have been known in Europe since 2000 BC and in the old days, it was largely replacing wheat in the mountain regions of the mediterranean countries - it was also much cheaper than wheat. This is also why in the last few centuries - the chestnut has been considered food of the poor.
In 1996 the chestnuts from the Mugello region of northern Tuscany was granted IGP status from the EC - for being one a kind - extra sweet, easier to peel and less floury.
Unlike other nuts, the chestnuts contain very little fat and protein - but mainly carbohydrates.
Cooking with chestnuts always requires a bit of work - removing the shells and the inner skins is a bit fiddly, but it needs to be done - so add an extra 30 minutes to your cooking, pour yourself a nice glass of red and start shelling. When using chestnuts in cooking, make a small cut on the curvy part of the chestnut, place in a sauce pan and cover with cold water. You can add a few fresh bay leaves - then bring to the boil. Simmer for 12-15 minutes, then remove from the heat. Take a few chestnuts out of the water at a time and shell/peel - but leave the rest in the hot water, as they are much easier to shell when warm. Now you are ready to eat and/or cook with them.
We like to add them to salads, thinly slice them with carne crudo, add them to soups, fill pasta with a cream of chestnuts, add them to stews and roasts, make a sweet cream/marmalade from them to be used in ice creams, to fill cakes and tarts, or bake them into breads.
We admit it we like it to the very thick side, not to everyone liking, but feel free to thin is a little. This a real "contardini" farmer soup - rich with proteins from the chickpeas and rich in carbs from the chestnuts - a real power lunch - and a perfect foil for the new season olive oil - this is where a generous drizzle of oil is appropriate.
600 g fresh chestnuts, you need 300 g peeled
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 handful sage, chopped
1 handful parsley, chopped
dried chili flakes
450 g cooked chickpeas
250 ml passata
300 ml water
sea salt and black pepper
extra virgin olive oil to serve
Start by preparing the chestnuts. Make a cut on the thick side of the chestnut, place in a sauce pan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 12 minutes. Remove from the heat, but leave them in the warm water. Remove just a few at a time and peel. They are easier to peel when warm and moist. Once they are peeled weigh out 300 g and cut them into smaller pieces. Save the rest for another use. They are great in cakes, salads and stews.
In a large saucepan heat the olive oil slowly and saute garlic, sage, parsley and chili for a few minutes without taking any colour. Add chestnuts and saute for another minute or two. Now add the chickpeas and saute for a few more minutes.
Pour in the passata and mix well before pouring in the water. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid and let the soup simmer for 40 minutes on medium to low heat. Season with salt and pepper.
Once the soup is cooked transfer 2 ladles of the soup to a blender and blend until smooth - then return to the saucepan. Reheat and adjust the seasoning.
Serve a a generous drizzle of olie oil.