Chestnuts roasting atop a brazier on Oxford Street are as much a symbol of Christmas in central London as the Salvation Army Band belting out Christmas carols or the Norwegian tree in Trafalgar Square. Dickens mentions them as a feature of the season and they used to figure along with Victorian bonnets and mufflers on the obligatory annual tin of Quality Street.
This nutritious nut has become an integral part of our perception of Christmas. But, they play little or no part in our Christmas feast; in my view, we do not use them as much as we should or could. So here are three ways to incorporate them into your Christmas lunch. I once prepared all three in one meal but thought, after the event, that it was rather too much of a good thing.
As the basis for a Christmas soup
To add texture to Brussel sprouts
Lightly boil your sprouts until they are nearly cooked, drain and transfer to a wide, shallow and trustworthy pan with a large nob of butter. Now add one packet of vacuum packed cooked chestnuts and cook gently for about twenty minutes or until the sprouts are getting a nice golden tinge. Do not worry if the chestnuts break up; they will, and will then prove a delicious contrast to the sprouts. A turn or two of the pepper mill and a light salting finishes them off.
Put some crunch in your stuffing
Take one finely chopped onion and fry gently in butter for a few minutes. Remove from heat and add a packet of vacuum-packed cooked chestnuts, an equivalent amount of coarsely chopped, pitted Agen prunes, a little thyme and four torn up sage leaves. Season this mixture generously with salt and pepper and set aside to cool. Now take the same quantity of minced pork as the chestnuts and prunes combined and mix thoroughly with the chestnut and prune mixture. Your stuffing is ready to cook. It is particularly good with goose or duck.