Roasting chestnuts wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be when I stopped at the farm gate on a beautiful stretch of gumtree-lined road to pick up a bag for $3. Like broad beans, chestnuts herald a new season and only hang around for a short time. This is key, as they both rely on you to forget how much effort you had to put in to prepare them last year. Unlike broad beans, shelling chestnuts is a full-contact sport that carries risk of puncture wounds and burns. But if you manage to avail the sweet flesh of a chestnut from its burning shard of shell, you will be rewarded with the full earthy flavour of this nut.
The beauty of eating seasonally and locally is that the produce you’re presented with at the market tends to work well together. The rust-coloured pears, crisp dandelion leaves and mild, crumbly blue cheese that I picked up at the market were very content to be paired with the sweet chestnuts from the nut farm. It doesn’t take much effort to follow nature’s plans for your dinner table; just buy what looks good, prepare it simply and be rewarded with the flavours of the season. This salad is autumn fare, no doubt.
I enjoy a salad that combines fruit and cheese to create a sweet and savoury dish (like fig and mozzarella or peaches and feta). Blue cheese is a bold ingredient that brings a fruity, spicy note that can be overpowering. It is the flavour-punch in this dish, but choose one that is quite mild so as not to dominate the more quietly spoken flavours of the pear and chestnuts. If you like your hands and don’t wish to slice them with burning chestnut shells, you can happily use walnuts instead. The sweetness of the pear in this salad is counterbalanced with a crisp, bitter green. I used dandelion, roughly sliced, but chicory would also work well.
The flavours of this salad are in such harmony with an autumn afternoon, and the nuts of my labour were appreciated. We’ll see if I forget the effort it took to relieve the chestnuts of their shells and go back for another bag of nuts next year.
How to Roast Chestnuts
Pre-heat oven to 180C/350F. With a sharp pairing knife, make an incision around the middle of the nut, cutting through the shell and a little bit into the flesh. This will stop the nut exploding in the oven. Place the slit nuts onto a rimmed baking tray and bake for 35 minutes. The shells will open up during the cooking process, allowing you to pull off the outer shell and remove the skin from the sweet flesh of the nut. Shell the nuts while they’re still hot, as it gets harder the cooler they are.
Chestnut, Pear, Blue Cheese and Dandelion Salad
- Several slices of crisp, fresh red pear
- A chunk of mild blue cheese, crumbled
- Enough bitter leaves like dandelion to sit nicely on the plate
- A handful of roasted, shelled and peeled chestnuts (or lightly toasted walnuts)
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
To prepare the chestnuts (skip if using walnuts):
Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan over a high heat. Saute chestnuts with salt and pepper, stirring, until the chestnuts are golden brown and a bit crunchy on the outside, about 4 minutes (cook too long and they’ll go hard on the inside, which you don’t want).
To make the dressing:
Place all the ingredients into a small jar with a lid and shake.
To assemble the salad:
Arrange the salad ingredients on a nice plate and drizzle the dressing over the top.