Summer’s end brought a very special basket into the kitchen: a harvest of fresh chestnuts from the trees surrounding our netted vegetable garden!
Here in the Southern Highlands of NSW, Australia, the cool climate is ideal for growing these large shiny nuts, provided the trees receive enough water. After a very wet summer, the yield was better than average. Boiled, roasted, candied, pureed: we tried many ways to enjoy these versatile gems. I discovered that with a little encouragement they make a delicate wafer! Do try this recipe at your place, and if they’re out of season you can always use a commercial paste or canned boiled chestnuts instead.
Fresh chestnuts should be large, plump and shiny; wear thick gloves and use a screwdriver to prise them from their spiny husks.
Cut a deep cross in the pale base of each nut to prevent them bursting during cooking.
Rolled out wafer dough sprinkled with seeds and salt, then sliced into wedges ready to bake.
Gently separate cooked wafers along cut marks with a knife and allow to cool on racks.
Makes 8 – 10 large wafers
8 – 10 large chestnuts
Pinch grated nutmeg
Pinch cayenne pepper
1/4 cup grated vintage cheddar cheese, tightly packed
1 heaped tbs grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt flakes
1 heaped tbs white sesame seeds
Score a deep cross in the base of each chestnut and place in saucepan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil over a medium heat and boil gently for 15 minutes. Remove nuts a few at a time (storing the nuts in the hot water while you work keeps them hot and easy to peel) and peel while still hot: hold the nut in a towel and peel from the scored end with a small sharp knife, revealing the pale flesh, so that both the outer shell and inner skin are discarded.
Pass halved nuts through a garlic press or pass whole nuts through a potato ricer. This yields a smooth puree: combine with cheeses, olive oil, nutmeg and cayenne pepper; squeeze the mixture gently to form a smooth dough ball. Place onto a greased lined baking tray. Place a sheet of plastic wrap over the tray. Using a large rolling pin, roll out the dough to a thickness of less than 2mm: the thinner you can roll the wafer, the crisper it will bake.
Remove the plastic wrap and scatter sesame seeds and sea salt flakes, lay the wrap over the wafers and very lightly press the topping onto the dough with the rolling pin. Remove the wrap. Using a long sharp knife or pizza cutter mark the dough into 8 wedges.
Bake in the centre of a preheated oven at 180C fan approx 12 – 15 mins, or longer until edges are lightly browned and centre is golden brown. Using a long sharp knife, gently ease the wafers apart along the scored lines. Cool tray on a wire rack: the wafers are very fragile! Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Serving suggestions: as appetiser accompanied by olives; as entree with fresh figs, bocconcini and prosciutto, with cheese after meal, as a delightful snack any time.