Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: At least one hour
At the end of the grape harvest, the season of wood pigeons and mushrooms, I used to bring the first chestnuts back from the woods. There was just time to pick the last green leaves of the fig tree to line the cooking pot. We would cut a bit of skin from the side of the chestnut so that it would be enriched by all the flavours of the cooking process. Immersed in salted water with a branch of fennel and some anise seeds, the chestnuts would cook protected and flavoured by the fig leaves.
During the first cold days of autumn, they would warm our schoolboy pockets and at recess it was a great treat to bite down on them to release the soft tasty centers. But once again, in order to achieve its full character during cooking, this temperamental fruit needs the encouragement of the anise and the complex flavour of the fig leaves.
If you don't have new wine, a fine Jurançon with a high content of Petit Manseng grapes will harmonize well with the mild flavour of the cooked chestnuts.
- Use a small round enameled pot with a lid and a handle, or else a small Dutch oven. Line the inside with the fig leaves.
- Wash the chestnuts, and using a very sharp paring knife, cut off a small slice from the side of each one: this will be the "meeting place" between the fruit and the cooking liquid. Place the chestnuts into the pot, pour in water just to cover, add the coarse salt, the anise or fresh fennel branch and the green anise seeds. I personally don't like the aggressiveness of star anise which overpowers, rather than flatters, the delicate flavour of the chestnuts.
- Cook for at least one hour in the hearth if possible, either hung from a trammel or placed on a trivet, or else on a traditional stovetop (the length of cooking gives you time to enjoy a little treat of something grilled on the coals!)
- Drain the chestnuts and serve them hot on a platter lined with a napkin.
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