The sweet flavour of chestnuts has always been held in high culinary regard throughout history. The gastronomic tradition has given rise to countless recipes ranging from desserts to intriguing salty dishes. Fruits borne by chestnut trees may be cooked or roasted and they’re commonly used to make purée or flour. The purée is made by pounding cooked chestnuts, while roasted chestnuts are ground so as to make flour.
When combined with game animals, chestnuts make true culinary specialties because gifts of the forests always go great together. Chestnuts may be added to poultry roasts ranging from geese, ducks, turkey to pheasant. If you add some apples, cloves and a good wine, you can get a phenomenal gravy by blending all the ingredients in which the meat was roasted. Chestnuts also go great with other autumn ingredients such as red cabbage. A cooked chestnut and red cabbage cold salad or side dish has an interesting taste and the colours certainly don’t lag behind. You’ll also be blown away by a combination of chestnuts and Brussels sprouts.
Chestnuts are the main autumn delicacy in the forests of Istria and Kvarner. Apart from a sweet abundance of classic chestnut specialties, restaurants and head chefs are becoming increasingly creative when it comes to devising new culinary ideas, whereas autumn menus are virtually inconceivable without chestnuts.
“Chestnuts are an extremely versatile ingredient due to their wide application, but they’re also important from a traditional vantage point as they’ve been a staple for the Lovran region population throughout history. Back in the day they were used to make bread, while today chestnuts are used to make pasta, ravioli, different sauces and a multitude of desserts.” – Igor Štanger, head chef at restaurant Štanger, told us.
Located halfway between Lovran and Mošćenička Draga and boasting a view of the Kvarner Gulf, restaurant Štanger will blow their guests away with its autumn menu where you can get to try chestnuts in all renditions ranging from the appetizer, main course all the way to dessert. The head chef prepared chestnut ravioli in sage sauce specially for us.
“Chestnut ravioli are prepared just as regular ones, but with one exception. We use chestnut flour instead of wheat flour. First you knead the dough that’s made from chestnut four, plain flour, eggs, salt and olive oil. Once we knead the dough, we wrap it up in foil and put it in the refrigerator to stand for about an hour. In the meantime we can prepare the filling using quark and salt. In order to make the ravioli, we need to roll the dough and form circles which are, in turn, filled with a teaspoon of quark. We moisten the ravioli edges with an egg, fold the dough, press the edges using a fork and toss them into boiling water. Once the ravioli are done, we add them to a pan in which we’ve previously heated some butter, added sage, cream, grated cooked chestnuts and added the seasonings. We add the ravioli to the sauce, flip them over a couple of times and serve them together with the sauce.”
In addition to being adamant about giving Dalmatian cuisine a modern twist, the cult restoranu Foša in Zadar also places particular emphasis on seasonality. Given that Zadar’s market abounds with chestnuts at the moment, restaurant Foša decided to add chestnut gnocchi to their autumn menu, while head chef Saša Began walked us through how they go about preparing this dish.
When it comes to the gnocchi dough, we use cooked chestnuts we then crush and mix with mashed potatoes, add some flour, an egg, salt and we get a mixture to be used to make gnocchi. We fry some prosciutto, garlic and beef stock in a pan, add the gnocchi, dehydrated sage leaves and a foam made from Grana Padano cheese.”
Given that chestnuts are mostly used to make desserts, we just couldn’t resist the urge to wrap up this story with a chestnut dessert. The rolling hills of Zagorje owe their fame to restaurant Vuglec Breg whose culinary magic has been recognised by Michelin which included them in their map. They focus on local cuisine and ingredients. Add wines made in their very own winery to the equation and you get a complete culinary experience. Chestnuts are indispensable as far as their autumn menu is concerned. Chestnut cake is particularly interesting and head chef Višnja Vusić prepared it for us.
“Chestnuts are an extremely versatile ingredient, which means they can be used to prepare a phenomenal soup or stuff ducks or turkey, while we make a chestnut cake. First we have to make a dark sponge cake using eggs, sugar, cocoa and coarse flour. Once this is done, we oven-bake the sponge cake at 180 °C for fifteen minutes. While the sponge cake is being baked, we boil some water with sugar and drench the hot sponge cake with it. When it comes to the cream, we use chestnut purée or passed cooked chestnuts. First we mix some butter with powdered sugar and then we add the chestnut purée. We whip the cream separately and combine them after that. We put chocolate frosting on top of the cream and the frosting is prepared using cream. The chestnut cake is then placed in the refrigerator for two to three hours to cool down. After that it’s ready to be served. We cut it into squares and we can decorate them with cooked chestnuts or a bit of whipped cream on the side.”
The distinct sweet flavours and nutty aromas of chestnuts are easily paired with other ingredients such as meat, vegetables or fruit. The high starch content makes them an ideal flour substitute when eating a gluten-free diet.