I made this recipe a long time ago and am FINALLY getting around to writing it up! Of course, it may have been a little more apt during the holiday season, what with references to chestnuts roasting on an open fire…but what the heck. Better late than never.
As recently as 100 years ago, native chestnut trees dominated eastern American forests. Not only did their mast provide a major source of calories for wildlife and people, the trees were an important hardwood for the timber industry. But the introduction of chestnut blight, a fungal parasite, has driven American chestnuts all but to extinction.
The chestnuts you find in stores today are from Chinese chestnuts, which are resistant to the blight. There is some interesting cross-breeding work being conducted today to attempt a resurrection of American chestnuts, so all hope is not lost. But the mass die-offs of chestnuts throughout Appalachia were certainly a cataclysmic ecological event.
At my farmer’s market each year, there is a stand that sells chestnuts, and I have always been intrigued. To be honest, I don’t know that I’d ever enjoyed one before! So I impulsively purchased a carton, knowing that I had a few chestnut recipes buried in some of my cookbooks. And so of course I settled on the most labor-intensive one for this already labor-intensive nut!
I used entirely whole wheat flour for this, which made the pasta very grainy and, well, “rustic” as I like to say. For a more refined taste, use AP or “00” flour as the original recipe recommends.
I also roll the homemade pasta out by hand as my pasta machine is broken and also pretty useless anyway. But if you have one, by all means use it to get the sheets nice and thin.
Rustic chestnut pasta with brussels sprouts and mushrooms in a brown butter sauce
Adapted from The Modern Vegetarian by Maria Elia
2 cups flour, plus more for dusting
3/4 cups cooked chestnuts
6 egg yolks
1 whole egg
Bit of olive oil
For the vegetables:
9 ounces assorted mushrooms, such as chanterelle, oyster, shitake…
9 ounces Brussels sprouts
3 T unsalted butter
1 cup cooked chestnuts
1-2 large/medium shallots
dozen or so sage leaves, coarsely chopped into more manageable pieces
Parmesan cheese, for garnish
To prepare the chestnuts, preheat oven to 400° while they soak in water for about 25 minutes. Score the outer shell with a knife and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes, until the edges of the score marks curl back. Peel the chestnuts while they are still warm.
For the pasta, finely grind 3/4 cup of the chestnuts in a food processor to a powder. Combine with the flour on a work surface, making a small mound with an indentation in the top. Crack the eggs into this indentation and gradually incorporate into the flour with a fork. Knead for about ten minutes. You can also do this step with the dough hook attachment of a stand mixer.
Chill the dough in the fridge for an hour. Roll into sheets using a pasta maker, and then cut into rustic strips by hand. Alternatively, if you do not have a pasta maker, roll the dough out as thin as possible by hand with a rolling pin. You will probably want to work in small batches for this. Again, cut by hand into rustic strips. Cook in well-salted boiling water for just a minute or two, until tender.
Roast the Brussels sprouts: raise oven temperature to 500°. Slice the sprouts, toss with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper and roast for about 10-15 minutes, until they are browning on the edges. Set aside.
In a large skillet, heat a generous amount of butter, about one whole stick, over medium heat until it starts to brown. Toss in the sage as well as a few fresh grinds of black pepper, and let this sizzle for a minute or two. Set aside in a separate bowl and return the same skillet to the burner. Add a bit more butter or olive oil as necessary and saute the shallots for a minute or two over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and continue to cook until they are nice and wilted.
Add the Brussles sprouts, the remaining chestnuts, and the sauce, and toss together with pasta until heated through. Add salt and pepper to taste and garnish with a few fresh shaves of parmesan.
Perfect meal for a snowed-in day!