Chestnut and Mushroom Ragu
I hadn’t tried chestnuts up until last month. Years of singing about chestnuts [“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”] never yielded any actual chestnut tastings. I never saw them often, but I suppose I never really went looking. I always assumed that their tough outer shell meant that they would be a pain to eat. Hello, misconception.
It wasn’t until we went up to Marchesi Vineyards last month to drop off a Christmas card that I even saw them being eaten in person. The owner, Franco, was literally roasting them on an open fire. They smelled divine [when it didn’t smell like a campfire]. He tossed them skillfully in a cast iron pan, shaking them often to keep them from burning. He sacrificed his fingers occasionally, plucking one from the fire to test for doneness. When they were ready, they went into the tasting room in a wicker basket for all to sample.
I probably ate about 15. Maybe more. They were addicting. Meaty. If you haven’t had one before, that’s the only way I can explain it. They get soft and chewy. Almost meat-like in texture, not in taste. I think it was a sign because I happened to see precooked chestnuts in New Seasons the next time I was in there. They’d been there all along, and I never knew it. Shocking. It’s amazing what you find when you’re receptive. Then, while re-reading La Cucina Italiana again, I noticed a recipe for Chestnut and Chanterelle Ragu. Fate is pretty obvious sometimes.
It’s an odd, but delicious dish. I followed the recipe to a tee, and it yielded what seemed to be really small portions. It claimed four. We split it in two, and it felt really tiny. I actually complained through the entire meal about it. It was the first milk based sauce I’ve made…ever [I think]. I almost wish I had used cream to give it more substance, but it was simple and garlicky all the same. Should it have been served with pasta or something? Maybe. It ended up being more filling than I anticipated. I’m still coming to grips with that notion of “comfortably full.” We never stay friends for long. Regardless, my favorite part was every single chestnut. I’m hooked.
- 1 cup pre-cooked chestnuts
- 1lb mushrooms of choice [I used shiitake]
- 1 cup milk
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 shallots, thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoon fresh parsley, chopped
- Heat the milk and a pinch of salt in a small saucepan on medium-low heat.
- Bring to a simmer and stir occasionally for 4 minutes.
- Add the garlic and simmer for another 4 minutes.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool before pureeing in a blender/food processor.
- In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil on medium heat.
- Add the shallots, tossing to coat, and cook for a minute.
- Add the mushrooms and chestnuts.
- Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Reduce heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are soft—6 to 8 minutes.
- Reheat sauce on low if it has cooled completely.
- Divide mushroom ragu on the plates for serving.
- Pour the sauce over the top.
- Sprinkle with parsley and serve.