I saw this combination in a Jacob Kenedy recipe in last Sunday’s Observer Magazine and liked the look of it. It’s chestnut season and I’m never quite sure what to do with them other than roast them and eat straight. I’ve combined them with Brussels sprouts for a Christmas side dish but generally they’re not something I eat or use a lot, although I like them. Kenedy goes as far as to make his own pasta with chestnut flour but that was definitely a step too far for me, so I settled on penne out of the choice in my store cupboard. I made a couple of other small changes but his recipe was my inspiration and it turned out really well.
I bought some vacuum-packed chestnuts, ready prepared and cooked and thus much easier to use. They are fairly easily available in supermarkets, especially at this time of year. It’s a fairly quick dish to prepare so it’s best to get the ingredients ready and cut up before you begin: finely chop 1 shallot; cut 3 pieces of streaky bacon or pancetta into 1cm strips; slice 4 of the chestnuts – about 5mm; slice 4 chestnut mushrooms – 5mm; chop a handful of flat-leaf parsley.
I used chestnut mushrooms not only because Kenedy did but because it made sense with the whole ‘chestnut’ theme and I love their nutty flavour. They don’t have much to do with chestnuts though and the name comes from their brown colour. However, the chestnut-mushroom association is strong in the wild where mushrooms grow under chestnut trees. In Japan shiitake mushrooms take their name from shii, a type of chestnut tree and take, meaning mushroom. In northern Italy a tagliatelle made with chestnut flour is served with a porcini mushroom sauce (ref: The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit).
First of all I got my pasta cooking – about 100g dried pasta per person. Cook according to the instructions and when you drain, save some of the cooking liquid. Meanwhile, I got on with the sauce. I added my finely chopped shallot to a pan with a little olive oil. While that started to soften I sliced the bacon and added that to the pan. Once the bacon was colouring nicely I added the sliced chestnuts with a good knob of butter. Stir round and when the chestnuts start to colour add the sliced mushrooms, and keep stirring occasionally so they brown each side.
When the mushrooms are cooked, add a good drizzle of single cream, the parsley, a good grating of Parmigiano cheese and a ladleful of the pasta cooking liquid. Stir together to make a sauce and taste to check seasoning.
Remember the bacon will have added some salty flavour, but you may need more salt. Also add a good grating of black pepper. Let it bubble up for just a minute or two, then add the drained pasta.
Stir round carefully so all the pasta is coated with the sauce, then transfer to a serving dish. Grate over a little more Parmigiano.
I served it with a green salad. It was so delicious. I loved the combination of the salty bacon with the sweet chestnuts; the earthy mushrooms and the gorgeous decadent addition of a little cream. It all came together well and really, like most good pasta dishes, it’s so easy and quick to put together. I do have rather a lot of chestnuts from the pack left though, so I feel that maybe there’s a chestnut soup coming soon …