Pasta with Chestnut Pesto

Autumn in Switzerland

When the train slowly rolled into Bellinzona after a beautiful trip past some of the amazing lakes and mountains of Switzerland, it was starting to get dark and it was raining. No slight drizzle, but real rain. As in, pouring down rain. I had about fifteen minutes before the reception of the hostel was supposed to close. And of course I got lost. Fortunately I made it about one minute before closing time. Soaked to the bone though, even after just fifteen minutes in the rain. Arriving in the hostel, the lady behind the desk was lovely, but she was disinfecting everything I had potentially touched or even looked at. Although of course wise in Corona times, a bit depressing as well. At that moment I was really wondering if I should indeed stay one more night and discover the town, or just leave and move on to Italy. But I didn’t think it would be fair to dismiss a city I had never been to without giving it any chance.

The next morning when I woke up, the rain had gone. This already lifted my spirits significantly. Bellinzona has three different medieval castles, very impressive especially for a town this size. The first one happened to be right next to the hostel. Since the dark and the rain had gone, I discovered I could even see it from my window when I leaned out a bit. And then, as to show me I made the right decision by staying in Bellinzona, the sun came out. And not only that, walking a bit further the heat of the sun and the soaked ground worked together in a marvelous way. Beautiful low hanging clouds and a sort of mist formed, making the medieval castles look even more impressive than usual. By then I was very happy I decided to stay to discover the city, even though it did not stay that amazing the whole day. I visited not only the three castles and the pretty, old city center, but also the mountains around by taking a funicular up and hiking around there. Getting to the outskirts of the town to take the funicular turned out to be easy, since the walls of one of the castles already let me out of the city center. Up there, there were not only nice views but also a small chapel with impressive frescos and a long Tibetan suspension bridge between the mountains. Interestingly, the majority of the trees around the castles and in the mountain area turned out to be chestnut trees. So it really felt like a proper autumn day.

After having walked the entire day through a chestnut forest and over the chestnuts that had freshly fallen off, I couldn´t do anything else than eating a chestnut dish that evening. I found a great risotto dish with caramelized chestnuts and bacon from the region. At home, I hadn´t been preparing chestnuts for a long time. So it was about time to try some chestnut dishes again.

Pasta with Chestnut Pesto

I added some bacon to this pasta as this was also in the amazing risotto I had in Bellinzona. But of course, to make this dish vegetarian, you can easily leave the bacon out.

Ingredients (for 4)

  • 220 grams of chestnuts – or approximately 180 if you buy already roasted and peeled ones
  • Small bunch of parsley – around 30 grams
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Lemon
  • 25 grams of Parmesan cheese
  • 200 grams of cherry tomatoes
  • 8 rashes of high quality bacon
  • 350 to 400 grams of pasta – a short type like penne or fusili
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Black pepper

Preheat your oven to 220°C. With a sharp knife, make a cross in the skin of each chestnut and place them on a baking tray with the carved side up. Once the oven is at the right temperature, roast the chestnuts for 20 minutes. The skin around the crosses should be pulled back and standing up.

Once they are done, take the chestnuts out of the oven and wrap them in a clean cloth. Press them down so that you can hear the skins crack. Let them cool down for a bit, and once you can handle them peel off both the outer skin and the papery skin around the nuts. You should be left with the dark yellow part.

Place the roasted chestnuts, the parsley and half of a clove of garlic in a food processor, or a bowl if you use a stab mixer, together with a pinch of salt and black pepper and a good splash of water to make the blending go easier. Blend this together until quite smooth. Grate the Parmesan cheese and add to the chestnut pesto together with four tablespoons of olive oil. Also add around two tablespoons of lemon juice. Mix well and season to taste. If the mixture is too dense, add some more olive oil.

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Meanwhile, halve the cherry tomatoes and finely chop the rest of the garlic. Slice the bacon in strips as well. Place a small frying pan over a medium fire with a splash of olive oil. Add the bacon to the pan. Once the bacon starts crisping up, after around 4 minutes, add the garlic and tomatoes to the pan as well and heat for another 3 minutes.
Meanwhile, the water should be boiling. Cook the pasta until al dente. Once done, drain the water from the pasta. Mix the chestnut pesto with the pasta in the pot. Serve the pasta with the bacon, tomatoes, and some extra Parmesan cheese.

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