I may be a water sign but when autumn comes, I am from the earth. I remember bags of roasted chestnuts bought for me on city streets in New York as a girl. My feet were decidedly marching on cement and asphalt but as I munched on the now soft, pliable chestnuts, the earth's crust was never far from me. I still look at piles of fallen leaves longingly. Do not think raking has any allure! I simply want to jump in and feel its warmth and crispness. And while I have become far too sensible to bury myself in the remnants of summer past, I will sit and kneel in blankets of leaves and hope that a rodent doesn't peek out at me!
Warm, soft chestnut pudding will do this to you. It's a romp in a pile of leaves. A hug from the earth. This recipe is from The Rose Pistola Cookbook- a restaurant in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood. Settled by immigrants from Liguria hoping to strike it big in the California Gold Rush, the recipes in this book combine the bounty of the Italian Riviera with the goodness from the Pacific Ocean. The cookbook reads like fiction and nourishes you to the end. Combining tales of the people who populated the neighborhood as well as the history of the dishes, the book gives a warm embrace to North Beach. And there's none of the "American-red-sauce" mania that swept Italian-American cooking (not that there's anything wrong with that - I was raised on red sauce!).
1 quart whole milk
3/4 cup chestnut flour, sifted*
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup honey (chestnut honey is ideal)
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 large eggs, beaten
Whipped cream or ice cream (optional)
- Preheat oven 350 degrees F.
- Scald the milk (bring milk almost to a boil and then reduce to simmer) in a heavy, large saucepan.
- Whisk in the chestnut flour - in a steady stream. Bring to a simmer whisking constantly until thickened. (Mine took about 5 minutes.) Remove from heat and let cool - just slightly.
- Add 3 tablespoons of the butter. the honey, salt and eggs and whisk until smooth. (I will confess I had a few lump - it didn't hurt).
- Butter a 12x8-1/2 gratin dish. Pour in the batter and bake for one hour until the top has caramelized and the pudding is set. Remove from oven and serve at once adding whipped cream or ice cream if desired.
But I will have it on my Thanksgiving table. Next time, I will use a pat less butter (it just didn't need it all) and a smaller gratin dish (which will up the cooking time) to have thicker slabs of it. And you can make it ahead of time. It's delicious cold the next day or simply rewarm before serving.
Rose Pistola Restaurant owner Reed Hearon noted in the book, "This pudding is something like an Indian pudding. Its flavor and texture actually comes from the flour." See? Perfect for Thanksgiving.
*I ordered the chestnut flour online from Sausage Debauchery.