Tales from an Ital­ian kitchen

The Guardian - Feast - - News - Rachel Roddy

Christ­mas sides and asides

The other night we roasted chest­nuts. Not over an open fire, nor in the oven as I usu­ally do, but in a fry­ing pan on the hob. I’d never cooked chest­nuts this way, think­ing it re­quired a spe­cial pan that looks like a cross be­tween a fry­ing pan and slot­ted spoon. But when I tried to buy one of these holy padella per

castagne, the man on the stall told me they were a waste of time and that an or­di­nary fry­ing pan worked just as well.

So I scored the curved side of some hand­some chest­nuts, tipped them into a fry­ing pan and lit the gas. Part of the joy of chest­nuts is the crackle: the way their slashes open into grins, or how they flash their bot­toms as they roast, mak­ing the kitchen smell like hot but­tered toast and smoul­der­ing wood. Af­ter 15 min­utes of roast­ing and pan-shak­ing, I bun­dled the hot nuts into a slightly damp tea towel to steam and to loosen the shells, and we waited, drink­ing red wine, with a seven-yearold ask­ing, “are they ready yet?” for each of the 10 min­utes.

Fi­nally, the un­bun­dle! Our first proper red wine and cal­dar­roste of the year – the first of many fes­tive rit­u­als, and the start of our very own Christ­mas chron­i­cles.

Ev­ery damned nut was rot­ten. De­spite the but­tery out­side, the hearts were ei­ther black or green and tasted like a mouldy wall.

It was too late to get more. Luca cried, I drank more wine and Vin­cenzo picked over the chest­nut wreck­age like an ex­pert look­ing for an­swers. Mean­while, some braised red cab­bage caught and sol­dered it­self to the bot­tom of the pan, and I burned my hand pulling it into the sink. It was the end of the world. Un­til I re­mem­bered it wasn’t, and we did the sen­si­ble thing and went for a pizza.

And the moral of the story is: don’t judge a chest­nut by its skin – es­pe­cially if you have bought it from the back of a lorry just off the Via Ostience. Also, don’t take your eye off the cab­bage. Or maybe it is sim­ply a re­minder for me that, at this time of year, when there are mul­ti­ple rit­u­als to be fit­ted into your ad­vent cal­en­dar, things can go wrong and feel like the end of the world – even when they aren’t.

With that in mind, I hope to fit two of these dishes (see p14), into our still-un­cer­tain Christ­mas eat­ing. The first is the red cab­bage – it comes into its own when braised/ baked with onion, ap­ple, su­gar and vine­gar, trans­form­ing it into a suc­cu­lent, bur­gundy slump. It’s as per­fect with Christ­mas Eve sausage and mash as it is Christ­mas din­ner.

The sec­ond is the River Cafein­spired chard gratin with an­chovy, olives and a bread­crumb crust, be­cause it is de­li­cious, an al­ter­na­tive to meat and can be made in ad­vance. The third is the bit­ter de­light that is radic­chio, pan-fried with pancetta, for Christ­mas Day.

Last but not least, I am hop­ing for more roasted chest­nuts, crum­bled into heav­ily but­tered, nut­meg-flecked cab­bage or spouts – just the sim­plest and nicest com­bi­na­tion, es­pe­cially with turkey and sweetly aro­matic bread sauce made to Jane Grig­son’s recipe. But this time, some­one else can buy the chest­nuts.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.