Chestnuts

 Chestnuts Key facts There are eight or nine species of chestnut tree, which belong to the beech family; sweet chestnuts are no relation to either horse chestnuts (conkers) or water chestnuts; chestnuts are grown in France and Italy where they enjoy many culinary uses, including being made into flour.

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.

 
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