Cathy’s Kitchen Prescription
In forests around the world where majestic chestnut trees rule, autumn time means chestnut time. That’s when the nuts are harvested and hit the markets. When we lived in Florence, our nightly after-supper ritual revolved around sharing a steaming bowl of “bruciate” ~ whole roasted chestnuts, hot off the fire, or a chestnutty treat made from fresh chestnut flour, like castagnaccio (a sort of flat baked custard made from chestnut flour baked with rosemary, raisins and pine nuts) or necci (crêpes served hot off the pan with ricotta).
Unlike other nuts, chestnuts are very low in fat. Its flour is naturally nutty, quite sweet, and gluten-free. Chestnuts are high in fiber, potassium, phosphorus, vitamins E and riboflavin. And happily, we can buy this year’s chestnut flour from Italy online.
If you have a good nonstick skillet, you can make chestnut crêpes. Filled with roasted or sautéed fresh fruit, they make a superb and easy elegant dessert, snack, even an alternative to breakfast pancakes! Serve will a dollop of homemade soy yogurt, strained to thicken, for a real treat.
Prep Time 50 minutes Cook Time 15-30 minutes, depending on the fruit filling Makes 6 crêpes
A good quality nonstick skillet
A 1” piece of dowel to shape the crêpes
Water hyacinth or jute placemat as a cooling rack
200 g fresh chestnut flour or about 2 cups, sifted
Enough water to create a thin, loose batter, the consistency of cream
3 plums or pluots, halved and pitted
3 apples, unpeeled, halved, pitted, cut in ½” slices
1 lemon, juiced
3 oranges (or if you can find them, 4-5 blood oranges), peeled, sectioned, pith removed
Or mix and match.
Hint 1: The best time to purchase chestnut flour imported from Italy is September/October. If you miss this window, you’re out of luck because the flour’s sweetness and flavor degrade quickly and if it’s old it will lack flavor or worse, taste rancid. Store in the freezer.
Hint 2: If you are crunched for time, just microwave a couple of cups of frozen blueberries for a few minutes, but don’t overcook or your fruit will collapse and release too much juice.
- A dollop of soy crème fraiche: Spoon 2 cups of homemade soy yogurt onto a 12” square of muslin. Hang over a bowl or the sink for 2 hours to thicken to the density of crème fraiche.
- A sprinkling of fresh orange zest
- A few freeze-dried blueberries or raspberries.
- A sprinkling of edible fresh flower petals
Create the Chestnut Batter
Sift the chestnut flour into a bowl and slowly stir in the water, pressing out any lumps with the back of the spoon. You can blend the two in a blender for a silky smooth batter. Allow the batter to rest for at least 30 minutes. During this time, prepare your fruit filling(s).
For plums and pluots, roast for 15-20 minutes under the low broiler until they brown on top and soften. After they cool, cut in ½” slices and capture all their wonderful, sweet juices. Set aside and keep warm.
For apples, no need to peel them. Just slice, remove the seeds, and toss them in a bowl filled with the juice of a small lemon to prevent browning. Pan roast the slices on a pre-heated nonstick skillet, turning them as they brown on their underside. After they’ve browned on both sides, add a little water, cover, and stew the apples until the apples are soft and skins are tender, but don’t overcook or they’ll become mushy. Set aside and keep warm.
Oranges can be pan roasted as well. After they have browned, add some orange juice, cover, and cook until they become plump and juicy (in just a few minutes). If you like, you can toss in a couple of star anise along with the orange juice. Set aside and keep warm.
Cooking the Crêpes
Preheat a good nonstick skillet for 2-3 minutes over a medium flame.
Pour or ladle in about ½ cup of batter, and immediately swirl the pan to spread the batter into a thinner circular crêpe. Cook for just a minute and flip to cook the other side.
Transfer to the woven placemat and immediately wrap the crêpe around a dowel to shape it into a roll for a minute. Cover with a clean dishcloth to prevent drying as you make the remaining crêpes OR fill each crêpe individually with your warmed fruit with a little of their juice, and plate as you go.
Chestnut crêpes are best eaten hot, right off the pan. Keep your fillings warm and your crème fraiche cold and serve them as soon as you can compose them. Enjoy!