Chestnuts, the gourmet nut that tastes of an Andalucian autumn
The different ochre tones and the shells that look like cute little hedgehogs on the ground reveals each year in Andalucia that autumn has come with its chestnuts. It has been one of the most deeply rooted products in our cultural and gastronomic tradition for many centuries. This product is everywhere in the region, not only for the multiple recipes, but also for the different chestnut festivals that welcome this nut. Huelva and Malaga are the two Andalucian provinces with more tradition and the aroma of roasted chestnuts fills their streets. If you travel to southern Spain in October do not miss the chestnut recipes, since, aside from its flavour, it is a classic feature of this season.
WHERE TO FIND THE BEST CHESTNUTS
The place par excellence where the chestnut is the indisputable queen of the party is undoubtedly the Genal Valley, in the heart of the Serranía de Ronda, an ochre paradise where over 70% of Andalucian chestnut production is centred. In Genal, any of its municipalities will offer you an unforgettable experience, an example of which are the municipalities of Cartajima, Pujerra and Igualeja, which contain dense chestnut and pine forests and which with the arrival of autumn focus all their efforts on the traditional chestnut collection and celebrate in November the day of this nut.
Another Andalucian area where you can enjoy this delicacy is the Sierra de Aracena y Picos de Aroche Natural Park (Huelva), where the chestnut grove occupies 3% of its surface area and stretches out between Aracena and Almonaster la Real, forming an unforgettable image during the whole year, but one that is especially magical with the arrival of autumn.
The festival is held at the end of this nut’s harvest, which is the most important product in the area’s economic system. It is held in early November and is where traditional dishes such as tostones are prepared and liquors such as mistela (a liquor made from coffee, brandy, cinnamon and sugar) are drunk, and you can also try other dishes where the undisputed star of the show is the beloved chestnut.
Valle del Genal: the chestnut route
We start the route in Parauta and begin by heading towards Cartajima, and walk through the copper forest amidst madrones, olive trees, chestnut trees, oak trees and sumacs until we reach Igualeja, where we can see the spring of the River Genal. We recommend doing this route in November and December, which is when you can enjoy the ochre colour of the vegetation.
Chestnut route in Huelva
This route runs through the Aracena y Picos de Aroche National Park and starts in the Cabildo Viejo de Aracena Visitor Centre, which is located in a 16th century building. Here you will find a lot of information on both the area’s artisanal and gastronomic heritage and your visit is the start of the route through the wonderful natural setting that will surround you.
How to peel chestnuts
The blanching technique is carried out by putting them in boiling water (the water should be boiling when we put the chestnuts into the pan) for a few minutes and then quickly stop the cooking with very cold water. The skin can be easily removed while the chestnuts are still hot. We just recommend that the chestnut cooking time be closely monitored so that it does not overcook.
In the microwave
It is enough to score each chestnut with a knife (if you do not do this the nut can break) and put them in groups of six for no longer than 20 seconds at maximum temperature. Remember that, as with the previous technique, they have to be peeled while they are hot.
Chestnuts are a very versatile gastronomic product. We can use them to prepare numerous dishes, both sweet and savoury, and we can use them to thicken broths, prepare tarts, flans, cream and many other preparations. Here are some suggestions based on this product.
Roasted chestnut is the most common form of eating this product in Andalucia. In any corner in autumn, you will find a stall with an oven and a pot to prepare them and sell them in the traditional cardboard cartons. A tip: if you are walking through an Andalucian city and their intoxicating aroma reaches you, buy some and sit on a bench to peel your chestnuts and plan your destination with the flavour of this nut that is so Andalucian.
You can also cook them at home. Pick the chestnuts up and score the shell. Put the oven on at 180 degrees and let it heat up for 15 minutes. When this time has passed, put the chestnuts in to roast for half an hour and they’re done! Your autumn dish is ready to serve.
Autumn risotto with seasonal produce
Mushroom and chestnut risotto is a very comforting dish, especially thanks to the autumnal aroma that it brings. Putting in cooked chestnuts along with the courgettes and mushrooms gives it an amazing texture that contrasts very well with the other ingredients. Be sure to try it.
Baked rice with ribs, mushrooms and chestnuts
The recipe for baked rice with ribs, mushrooms and chestnuts is the last recipe we have selected for this compilation of chestnut recipes, which as you will have observed, includes both sweet and savoury recipes. It is a rice dish cooked in a paella pan with a very interesting taste.
Chestnut cream and ham
If you want to cook for four people you need 200 grams of chestnut (once peeled), half a leek, a small onion, 650 grams of ham broth, olive oil, black pepper, thyme and salt.
In a pan pour some olive oil to fry the onion and leek with a little salt. Then add the chopped chestnuts and add the spices as preferred. After that you pour the ham broth and let it boil. When the chestnuts are tender, take the ingredients off the pan and grind everything. The result is a delicious cream ideal for autumn evenings.
Risotto with mushrooms and chestnuts
This recipe is a delicacy for rice lovers. Put a pan to heat-up with a splash of extra virgin olive oil, add the chopped onion and the garlic cloves with a pinch of salt, all moderately. After this you add the chestnuts and spices while you heat chicken stock in another pan (you can get it in any supermarket).
Add the mushrooms and incorporate the rice, lightly frying it until the rice grain changes colour. Pour some white wine and let it evaporate over medium heat.
At this point begin to pour the chicken stock gradually, i.e. in spoonfuls for the rice to absorb it until it acquires the right texture for risotto. If you wish you can add a bit of Parmesan cheese on top, and then it will be ready to serve.
If you cook for four people, you will need half a white onion, two cloves of garlic, 20 blanched and peeled chestnuts, 250 grams of mushrooms, 350 grams of rice, 150 grams of white wine, two sprigs of rosemary, black pepper, 900 grams of broth poultry and parmesan cheese.
Chestnut sponge cake
The chestnut sponge cake is a delightfully light cake made with cooked chestnuts and corn flour instead of normal flour, and its texture is unforgettable.
4. Chestnut muhammara
This is a roasted red pepper and chestnut dip, the recipe for which is originally from Aleppo. It is a delicious starter that is nutritional and very healthy.
Chestnut, chickpea and kale stew
This recipe is a reinterpretation of a tried and tested stew in which the potatoes are replaced with chestnuts and the kale replaces green cabbage. It is not a commonly prepared stew, but its flavour is quite peculiar, so why not give this recipe a go.
Sweet chestnut cream
Like roasted chestnuts, sweet chestnut cream is an amazing source of energy. It is perfect for incorporating into breakfasts and snacks. It is also used as a filling for things like fritters, puff pastries, etc.
Chestnuts in syrup
This sweet homemade preserve can be used to make fillings, garnishes and many other recipes.
With all these suggestions, when you feel like cooking with this ingredient, you will definitely not be short of ideas.
Some amazing curiosities about chestnuts
- Long-living Tree: The chestnut tree (Castanea sativa) is a tree that can live for several centuries, making it one of the longest-lived trees in the world. In some parts of Europe, chestnut trees that are hundreds of years old are considered natural monuments.
- Ancient Food: Chestnuts have been consumed as food since prehistoric times. They are believed to have been a staple food for European populations before the introduction of potatoes.
- Properties: It looks like a cereal but is actually a nut. Chestnuts are mostly water, which makes them very low in calories. They are rich in fiber, which helps regulate your intestinal flora. Chestnuts stand out because their protein fraction contains all the essential amino acids for humans.
- Culinary Uses: Chestnuts can be cooked in various ways, including roasting, boiling, steaming, and they are used in a variety of dishes, from purees to poultry stuffing.
- Autumn Fruit: Chestnuts are especially popular in the autumn season when they are freshly harvested from trees and roasted in the streets of many European cities.
- Chestnut Flour: Chestnut flour is used in cooking to make bread, cakes, and other baked goods. It is a gluten-free alternative to wheat flour.
- Nutritional Properties: Chestnuts are rich in carbohydrates, fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, and other nutrients. They are an excellent source of energy.
- Traditional Sweets: In some cultures, chestnuts are used in the preparation of sweets, such as marron glacé in France or castagnaccio in Italy.
- Peeling Process: Peeling fresh chestnuts can be a challenge due to their hard, prickly shell. Before cooking, an incision is made in the shell or they are boiled to facilitate peeling.
- Forest Protection: In some areas, chestnut groves are considered essential for soil conservation and biodiversity as their roots help prevent erosion and provide habitat for wildlife.
- Medicinal Uses: Chestnuts have also been used for medicinal purposes in some herbal medicine traditions. They are believed to have anti-inflammatory properties and benefits for blood circulation.
WHERE TO STAY
If you want to discover and enjoy the flavour of chestnuts in Andalucia, be sure to stay at the best hotels. The best option is undoubtedly Fuerte Hoteles. The chain has establishments where you can enjoy, in addition to their amenities, the best of each geographical area of Andalucia. Its 60 plus years’ experience are the best guarantee. Conil, El Rompido, Grazalema and Torrox are just some of the enclaves where you can enjoy this amazing accommodation.