I’m feeling kinda lonely. I’m putting it down to a combination of winter arriving (the season when you should be curled on the couch with someone or something you are rather fond of), plus the BFF planning to walk down the aisle and I’m not there to bring out the wedding scrapbook and plan every flower with her. Mix this with a little “whoa girl, you’ve been away from home for TWO YEARS, that’s kind of significant”, and it kind of makes sense. Being lonely isn’t fun, so I’m looking to food to fill the gap. Don’t worry, I’m not going to sit on the couch eating Tim Tams until one of those Tim Tam genies appear so I can get him to turn a Tim Tam into my boyfriend (yep, I would trade a Tim Tam for him. That’s shows how lonely I really am). Emotional eating helps nobody, and never leaves you feeling better than before you opened the Tim Tam packet. Instead, I’m turning to what, for me, is the food- equivalent to a cuddle on the couch. The perfect food to welcome in winter. Chestnuts.
To foodie-me, chestnuts are winter nights, sitting around the family table, begging dad to peel me just one more (and knowing he will, because no Italo-Australian father will deny his daughter of food). They are buying a bag, freshly roasted, to snack on whilst I throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain in the Italian snow. They are the permanent bowl in Nonna’s garage, no doubt in preparation for the next apocalypse.
To dietitian-me, chestnuts are just as exciting as family dinners and Italian winters. Not because they are superior to other nuts, rather, because they are different. Chestnuts must have been reading all those Instagram inspiration quotes, like “Don’t be afraid of being different, be afraid of being the same as everyone else”, and “Being different isn”t a bad thing, it means you’re brave enough to be yourself”. Coz chestnuts, they did it their way.
Most nuts are high in fat. This isn’t a bad thing, as 1. our body needs fats for many biological functions and 2. the types of fats found predominantly in fats (unsaturated) are protective against diseases. They’ve been proven to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, without putting on extra weight and reduce the incidence of Metabolic Syndrome, for example. In a fatophobic society we are simply not eating enough of these. Aiming for a handful of nuts a day would do us all good.
We’re also a carbophobic society these days (talk about making things confusing in the supermarket aisle). From this angle, chestnuts get the worst of both worlds- having the word “nut” at the end of it’s name leads people to think they’re high in fat. However, they’re actually high in carbs (34.3%) and low in fat (0.6%), which could leave many people running. But it shouldn’t. Packed with nutrients such as vitamins C, B1 and B2 and folate, and minerals such as iron and potassium, they are also lower in kilojoules than other nuts (approximately 1/3 to 1/4 the kilojoules of other nuts), making them great for those wanting to watch their weight. Plus, the effort required to shell each chestnut makes them much more difficult to overeat. And the taste! Sweeter than other nuts and not as crunchy, they have the texture of a baked potato, which isn’t surprising on both accounts considering it’s carbohydrate content. Given the similar carbohydrate content to wheat flour, it is great to ground up into a gluten free flour, and use in sweet or savoury dishes, making them exciting to use in cooking. So that’s just what I did.
City deli’s sell chestnut flour pre ground, but where’s the fun in that? Peeling roasted chestnuts (one for me, one for the flour), drying them out in the oven, then whizzing them through the food processor is a therapeutic way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The nutty texture worked perfectly in my Chestnut Gnocchi with Butter and Sage, a common Italian dish given the abundance of chestnut trees throughout the Italian Alps. Similarly, the sweet, nuttiness makes a wonderful alternative to fruit jams, and is even more versatile. Make Chestnut Vanilla Jam- it will keeps for months (if you can resist eating it by the spoonful) and is so versatile. I’m loving it on grainy crackers with cream cheese, but if you’re one to stick to traditions, use it to fill ravioli or make a tart.
Instagram may have been onto something- and using an abnormal nut to make a gnocchi and a jam is perfect proof of that.