Chestnuts obviously are another autumn gift. I’ve been using them scarcely for years, considering them a luxury as I had to pay a fortune for them to a greengrocer. But for now… I felt somewhat ridiculous when we came home from a walk in the forest with more than 6 pounds of them for free – a few days after having bought half a pound from the farmer’s market !
If you’re a lucky forest neighbour like me and don’t know what to do with all your harvest, let me tell you first to use chestnuts up as rapidly as you can: they are delicate fruits which are best eaten when very fresh, as soon as they were picked up. Yet, once peeled and prepped, they can be frozen for later feasts ! Plus, since I could finally enjoy the use of chestnuts, I have a few exciting ideas to share with you in order not to waste all this goodness.
Indeed, chestnuts are nutritional (they bring whole proteins, fibres, manganese and potassium) yet gluten free and low in sugar and fats (unlike some other dried fruits) – thus, quite an interesting ingredient to include into any diet. And because of their starchy nature, they were used just like potato in older times (in soups, as mash…). So, why not feature them in the form of gnocchi, another potato-based dish ?
The ones you’ll see here are made the most “chestnutty”, without any additional potato or excess flour, but I guess you could imagine a number of delicious variations. I have to admit they are a bit denser that regular potato gnocchi – when boiled they came up to the surface as lazily as our big-cat-mama climbs up the stairs -, but I loved their particular chew and mild sweetness. Plus, they held shape to perfection. Regarding the shape, by the way, I still don’t see the advantage of a gnocchi board, the fork rolling method being more than enough once you’ve mastered it (see step-by-step pictures below).
I seared the gnocchi in some brown butter to complement them with nuttiness, and served them nested in some simple steamed chards. I also used some of the parasol mushrooms (called coulemelles [“cool-male”] out here) we got from a big-hearted market gardener to make a satisfying French-style creamy sauce and finish off this kind of unusual meal: be honest, gnocchi making remains a time-consuming activity which you can indulge in only as a housewife, a very organised person or when you’re on vacation ! But I guess that sauce would have been good over a piece of grilled meat or another kind of pasta too.
You will need peeled chestnuts to make these gnocchi, and my favorite way to peel them so far is to have them roasted on the stovetop. However, this requires a special pan which might not be easy to find. Then I’d advise you to follow the oven-roasting method (more efficient than boiling), and not bake them more than 25 minutes. Also, no need to make a criss-cross cut but a large enough one !
- 1/2 lb (225 gr.) chestnuts, baked and peeled (instructions above)
- 50 gr. durum and wheat flour mix (or substitute a mix of semolina and AP flour)
- 1/2 tsp sea salt, or more to taste
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 egg, large, beaten
- olive oil for boiling
- butter for frying
Puree the chestnuts using a potato masher or a colander if they’re very dry like mine. A food processor can be used too but the resulting dough might be a bit more springy, which isn’t the actual consistency you want for gnocchi.
Combine pureed chestnuts, flour, salt and nutmeg in a mixing bowl, mix well and add gradually the egg, kneading to form a soft, pliable dough. Add some water if needed. Roll the dough into a ball and divide it into 4 pieces. Use one of them at a time while leaving the others covered with a clean cloth or cling film.
Roll the dough piece into a 1/2 inch-diameter log, cut it into evenly-sized pieces and shape them into gnocchi: press them against the back of a fork and roll them round (see step-by-step pictures above). Note that this shaping is made to allow the sauce to coat the gnocchi better and that it is of course optional !
Bring a large pot of water to the boil with salt and a glug of olive oil to keep the gnocchi from sticking to each other and to the bottom of the pot. Drop them into the boiling water in batches, and take them out with a slotted spoon as soon as they come up to the surface. Rinse them quickly under cool running water to remove excess starch and drain well. At this stage, you can eat them right away or refrigerate/freeze for later use.
To serve, brown a knob of butter in a frying pan over low-medium heat and saute the gnocchi till nicely browned. In case they had completely cooled down, cook them a bit longer, adding a lid once they are browned and crisp enough, to allow them to be thoroughly reheated.
Creamy wild mushroom sauce
- 1 large parasol mushroom (~ 200 gr.), cap only, cleaned and diced
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1/2 tsp olive oil
- 1/4 cup of sherry (I used red pineau des Charentes which I had on hand)
- 1/3 cup light crème fraîche + 1/3 cup of semi-skimmed milk, or substitute 2/3 cup of whipping cream
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
- salt to taste
In a saucepan over medium heat, saute the shallot in oil then add the mushrooms and brown them lightly. Deglaze with the sherry and simmer until the mushrooms are cooked down. Stir in the crème fraîche and the milk or the cream and bring to a simmer. Keep stirring to allow the flavours to melt. Add salt to taste and the pepper and process till smooth. Reheat if needed and serve over meat / pasta / chestnut gnocchi !
I sprinkled the resulting dish with overnight rehydrated and chopped leaves of home-dried sage, which you can add straight into the sauce if you like.