When thinking about seasonal ingredients, we realized that neither one of us had ever made anything involving chestnuts. So we set out to change that, using this recipe from Epicurious. Before we could start on the salad, we first had to roast the chestnuts. The initial step is scoring the outer shell of the nut, this prevents them from exploding by allowing steam to escape during the roasting process. We used a bread knife for this purpose and tried both the traditional “X” cut on the flat side, as well a single straight slice across the round side of the nut.
Next, we soaked them in a bowl of warm water for about 15 minutes. After draining, we placed them in a pan and slid them into a 350 degree oven. The nuts roast for about 15 minutes, or until the shell begins to peel away. The instructions called for letting the chestnuts rest for two minutes and then peeling them while still hot, with the aid of protective gloves. We found that using a potholder and tongs works quite well.
Interestingly, we discovered that the chestnuts with only a single slit were far easier to peel than the nuts with the “X” shaped cut. This “hinge” allows you to pop the shell open much like a clam, usually removing the entire shell in one or two pieces.
Once shelled, the nuts are blanched in boiling water for a couple minutes, drained and rubbed with a kitchen towel to remove the inner skin.
We heated oil in a a medium hot pan and added the prepped chestnuts, along with salt and pepper, sautéing them until crispy, but not burnt. Finally, they are removed from the heat and left to sit while the rest of the ingredients are prepared.
The pears were halved, cored and cut into thin slices. For the vinaigrette, we combined the vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper in a bowl. Next, slowly pour in the oil while whisking, until fully emulsified. Finally, whisk in the shallots. We added the sliced pears and crispy chestnuts to the chicory, crumbled the stilton on top, and dressed the salad.
The chestnuts were nutty and moist, with a hint sweetness and a slightly grainy texture. Rich and pungent, the Stilton cheese offset the bitterness of the chicory, with pears balancing out the flavors. We thought the bright acidity of the dressing was nice, but we found that the salad benefitted from even more dressing than the recipe called for. With whole chestnuts, and large slices of pear, we had difficulty constructing a bite that contained a bit of everything, so next time, we might chop the pears into smaller pieces and perhaps quarter the chestnuts.