Saturday, 21 January 2017

Dried Chestnuts: Foodie treasures from Madeira

Last Easter we spent a couple of weeks on Madeira and we enjoyed our various trips and adventures there, and of course I was on the look out for different types of ingredients and foods!

On our trip to the Valley of the Nuns...where we were most expertly driven around mountains with hairpin roads as I have never seen before, we stopped at a viewpoint where I took these pictures

Trees grew wherever their roots could gain anchorage

At the very quiet market place in the Valley of Nuns Village, where there were only two stalls, I started to chat to one stall holder.  She was a very helpful young woman who spoke excellent English.  She and her family farmed on the hill sides.  I looked over what she had to offer and wondered what I could take home.  I chose some wild oregano, which I shared with a couple of friends and is almost gone, and a bag of dried chestnuts.

I was going through my ingredients and decided it was time to use these.  First I had to find out how to 'deal' with them.

I soaked them overnight.  As I walked into the kitchen the next morning, I was surprised by how much water they had absorbed.  It was easy to carefully peel off any remaining outer membrane and inspect them for any 'foreign bodies', of which about 5% were rejected. I then cooked them very gently until half cooked as I wanted to be able to add them to dishes such as casseroles and soups and continue cooking them for a little longer.  

The young woman had explained that they were all from local trees which are organically grown.  What she did not explain is that they had been heated and dried over real smoking fire.  This has imbued the chestnuts with a wonderful wood smoked flavour.  That day I had popped only four into a 'Chicken Chasseur' type dish with some Madeira Wine and realise that these are a real foodie find.

I've boxed up and bagged and frozen the rest for future use!  The cooking liquor is far too precious to throw away.  I am planning mushroom and chestnut soups, venison casseroles, pork, chestnut and bean hot pots etc.  Maybe even some smoked chestnut and thyme infused bread?

I have since learnt that Chestnuts are an important part of the Valley's harvest, and each year there is a very popular Chestnut Festival at the beginning of November.

No comments:

Post a Comment