Mountainous parts of France and Italy seem to yield the plumpest chestnuts . Our home-grown ones are never a match for size and, when you have pounds to prepare for a party, or for the Christmas stuffing, size does matter. (Vacuum packed, shelled chestnuts are a good quality alternative.)

Chestnuts do not contain much oil and traditionally were ground to produce a form of flour which is still used in some regions of Italy. Marrons glacés are a much better known form: these are candied chestnuts.

How to peel chestnuts: Not a particularly easy job this, but the best method I have come across is as follows: rinse the chestnuts, then make a small incision in the flat side of the shell of each nut. Place them in a saucepan with cold water to cover, bring to the boil and boil gently for 10 minutes or so. Take the pan off the heat and use a draining spoon to remove the chestnuts from the water two or three at a time.

Peel these before removing the next batch. Take care to remove the inner skin from the crevices in the chestnuts – you will have to break the nut apart to do so, but for making a soup this won't matter.

Related Recipes
Chestnut Soup with Bacon and Thyme Croutons Serves 4

Chestnut Soup with Bacon and Thyme Croutons

Ready-cooked chestnuts allow you to make this quck, easy, low-fat soup in no time at all and you'll be well rewarded: the chestnuts add richness and a sweet flavour for a perfect winter soup.

Pot-roasted Pheasant with Port and Chestnuts Serves 4

Pot-roasted Pheasant with Port and Chestnuts

A superb alternative to turkey at Christmas and throughout the game season, this pheasant dish is crammed with robust flavours and wintry sustenance.

Christmas Easy: Braised Venison with Bacon, Chestnuts and Wild Mushrooms in a Rich Madeira Sauce Serves 4-6

Christmas Easy: Braised Venison with Bacon, Chestnuts and Wild Mushrooms in a Rich Madeira Sauce

Venison lends itself to slow cooking with other wintry ingredients such as mushrooms, bacon and chestnuts. The Madeira sauce gives it plenty of richness too, resulting in a dish that's truly sensational and perfect for Christmas.

Buche de Noel (Chocolate Chestnut Log) Serves 8-10

Buche de Noel (Chocolate Chestnut Log)

Light and lovely, this chocolate chestnut log would make a great centrepiece at a Christmas party.

Eighteenth-century Chestnut Stuffing Makes enough for a 12-14 lb (5.5-6.5 kg) turkey but would actually be okay for any size of bird

Eighteenth-century Chestnut Stuffing

This gorgeous stuffing recipe is proof that some of the old ones are the best! If you don't like peeling chestnuts, look out for vacuum-packed ones for speed and ease.




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