11 Go nuts
With Accidental Cook Russell Norman
At this time of the year you’ll find me in my local park, drawn by the abundance of glossy, plump new season’s chestnuts. On clear, crisp mornings I’m out with a bucket and a pair of gloves, collecting as many as decorum and restraint permit.
There are certain ingredients that have such a strong, seasonal association that it is difficult to imagine them at another time of the year. Strawberries in winter? Forget it. Brussels sprouts in the summer? You’re having a laugh. Cadbury’s Creme Eggs on New Year’s Day? On your bike! (Er, wait a moment. I Googled it and apparently you can get Creme Eggs on New Year’s Day. Those sickoes at Cadbury’s HQ...)
Top of the tree in the seasonal ingredient stakes is the chestnut. Whether it’s Nat King Cole crooning about them roasting on an open fire, or soot-fingered street vendors selling them for a quid a bag, I can’t think of winter without chestnuts, or vice versa for that matter. And as the nights get longer and the days get colder, Christmas gives this nut an even deeper resonance: chestnuts are as essential to the season as mince pies, roast turkey, mulled wine and the Queen’s Speech.
This recipe uses the subtle smoky tang and firm texture of chestnuts as an accompaniment to gently spiced meat. It’s my variation of a northern Italian ragu called le secoe, normally made with fatty beef from the spinal column of the cow and a smidge of cinnamon. It’s a delicious alternative to bog-standard Bolognese, less saucy and tomatoey, and a perfect way to celebrate those wonderful seasonal flavours. Instagram: Russell_Norman