When the leaves change colour and start to fall again, it’s also time for the chestnuts to return. Since the beginning of October the shops in Barcelona have been selling them. And when you pass by the chestnut trees you can hear the plops of the nuts falling on the ground between the leaves. The third place where you can find them is in the small stalls that have popped up everywhere. Here you can buy roasted chestnuts and enjoy them on the street, straight from the fire.
The smell of those roasted chestnuts always takes me back to Paris, the first place where I remember seeing them. Of course, there are similar stalls to the ones in Barcelona. But what made the largest impression on me were the people that just had a shopping cart from a supermarket. They placed a metal drum in the shopping cart in which a little fire was burning. On top of the drum a metal tray where the chestnuts were roasting away. You would get your portion of those “marrons chauds” in a paper bag or a rolled up newspaper. Then you could immediately peel and eat them. A simple and delicious way to enjoy these treats and very useful for warming up on a cold day.
But simply roasted is not the only way in which chestnuts are being eaten in France. A famous dish with chestnuts is the “crêpe aux marrons”, the typical French pancake with a sweet chestnut cream. Delicious and very filling. And of course, those crêpes can be found everywhere in Paris as well. When I was a student in Paris I often had a crêpe on the corner of the street when I was out in the city alone, meanwhile observing the Parisians and tourists who were passing by. Cheap and tasty food, so perfect for students in an expensive city. I used to have the savoury ones, with cheese, ham and an egg, and thoroughly enjoyed them.
So why not combine both memories of Paris, and make a savoury pancake with chestnuts during this time that chestnuts can be found everywhere?
Chestnut and rosemary pancakes
Ingredients (for 2 as lunch)
For the pancakes:
- 60 grams of flour
- 1 egg
- 140 ml milk
- Sugar – heaped teaspoon
- Pinch of salt
- Rosemary – 3 or 4 sprigs
For the filling:
- Chestnuts – two good handfuls, around 200 grams
- Bacon – 8 slices
- 1 small onion
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 red chilli
- Sage – small bunch
- Brandy or cognac
- 2 eggs
- Salt and black pepper
The first step is to prepare your own roasted chestnuts. Turn the oven on at around 200˚C. Pour some hot water in a little bowl. Take the first chestnut and carefully carve a cross in its skin. Place the chestnut in the bowl with water. Repeat this with all chestnuts. When you are done, place the chestnuts in one single layer on a piece of aluminium foil and fold the edges of the foil a bit up to form a sort of little basket. Add some drops of the water so that the chestnuts will not only roast but also steam. Place them on a tray in the oven and roast them for around 30 minutes until the skin cracks open and the insides are soft.
Meanwhile, continue with the rest of the preparations. Make the pancake batter by mixing the flour, egg, and milk in a bowl. Keep mixing with a whisk until there are no lumps of flour left. Add the sugar and a pinch of salt. Chop the rosemary really fine and whisk in as well.
Chop the onion, the garlic, and the bacon each in small pieces. Deseed the chilli, unless you prefer it really spicy of course, and finely slice it. Finely chop the sage as well. Grate the zest of the lemon.
After all these preparations, the chestnuts should be roasted and ready. Carefully take them out of the oven and wrap them in a cloth. Use your hands to massage them and crack the skin. When they are cooled down enough so that you can handle them, peel the chestnuts. The skin comes off easier when they are still hot. So the hotter you can handle, the better! Break the chestnuts in rough pieces and set them aside.
Now it’s time to make the pancakes. Heat a little knob of butter in a non-stick frying pan on medium heat. When the butter has melted, add a thin layer of the pancake batter while swirling the pan around so that it is covered. Fry until the pancake comes off the bottom easily and is golden brown. Then flip it over and fry on the other side. Repeat this until all batter has finished, every time adding a bit of butter between the pancakes. I get three pancakes out of this amount of batter, but it depends on their thickness and the size of your pan. Keep the pancakes warm under some aluminium foil or in the oven.
In another frying pan, fry the bacon with a little knob of butter till the fat starts to come out. Then add the onion and some black pepper. Fry for about 5 minutes, until the onion starts to soften up. Add the garlic, chilli, and sage and fry over low heat for another 5 minutes. Once the onion is soft, add the chestnuts. Now, when you are using the extractor fan, please switch it off to avoid accidents. Add a good splash of brandy to the chestnut mixture. Twist the pan a bit and carefully light the liquor with a long match. Keep the pan away from you and swirl. You will see all the alcohol burning out of the brandy. A pretty exciting sight, especially when you’ve switched the lights off. Beautiful blue flames.
Once the fire is completely out, place the pan back on the stove. Add a good knob of butter and the lemon zest. Taste the mixture and add a bit of lemon juice, salt, and black pepper as needed.
Create two little holes in the middle of the mixture. Crack the eggs in those holes, but do it carefully so that the yolks don’t break. Sprinkle a bit of salt over the eggs. Turn the fire down and cover the pan with aluminium foil or a lid. Cook this for around 6 minutes, or until the eggs are to your liking.
Finally, take out two plates and put a pancake on each. Carefully transfer an egg to the middle of each of the pancakes and spread the rest of the chestnut mixture around this. Wrap the edges of the pancake over the filling and garnish with some extra chilli. Bon appétit!
(And if you have some pancakes left, spread some honey on top for a delicious breakfast.)