There is no getting away from it: This is officially free food. And, what's more, I didn't even have to go foraging for it! It was a gift. I don't think it gets much better than that.
Francesco came to stay this weekend. The man's a genius in the kitchen, and whenever he comes around, you know the eating is going to be good. He always arrives with a small case and the first thing I want to do when we collect him from the station is ask what he has inside. Of course, I don't, because I'm quite a well-mannered sort of chap, but I know he knows that's what I'm thinking!
Quite often, it will be a selection of Italian products that I ask lots of questions about (like a culinary version of show and tell), and make a note to buy next time I'm in Italy, or it might be an Italian book of recipes, which he kindly translates for me.
But this time it was something quite different. A bag of dirty nuts.
Now, I'm someone who tends to see the glass as half empty. So you'd think if somebody dumped a load of grubby conkers on my kitchen counter I'd be distraught. Well, I don't know what came over me, but I wasn't. I was intrigued. Though admittedly, only after having found out that they weren't conkers.
He said they were sweet chestnuts, gathered from a few trees at work, and that we were going to roast them. How seasonal!
I've had hot roast chestnuts before, and even thought they were really nice, but I think I always assumed you needed special equipment to roast them at home. As it happens, it's dirt simple. And since I can't be the only person in the world to have held this misconception, I have decided to put the method up here in case anybody else wants to try. So hold on to your hats, readers - we're about to go Dickensian!
Roasted Sweet Chestnuts
You will need:
chestnuts - we ate about 10 chestnuts each, after dinner, but we are greedy. You may need less.
- Wash the nuts in cold water to get rid of all the soil and dust. Leave to soak for a few minutes while you pre-heat the oven to 200°C. If you are using bought nuts (and I don't blame you - I'm hardly a hunter-gatherer myself!), you can probably skip the washing.
- Drain and dry the nuts, and score each one width-ways with a sharp knife. This stops them exploding in your oven.
- Spread the nuts out in a roasting tin, or on an oven sheet, and roast for about 20 minutes. Shake them about after 10 minutes. They are done when the shells look slightly burnished and you can see the insides starting to poke out.
- Serve immediately, remembering they will be hot. Don't burn your tongue.