Friday, November 19, 2010

Italian Chestnut Stuffed Onions


You may know that my husband and I recently made a wonderful trip to Italy. A week of the trip was spent with a car, motoring around the Chianti district of Tuscany. We saw all the sights but we also indulged in an awful lot of great food and wine. Several seasonal ingredients were on most menus: cinghiale (wild boar), chestnuts and zucca (which refers to most any of the winter squashes).

One evening we dined at a small country restaurant with a fixed menu. The only antipasto offered was a chestnut-stuffed onion. It was served with a small salad and both of us just lapped it up. I knew I wanted to try it. Then I got several emails from readers asking if I planned on giving my annual fall chestnuts-in-anything-but-dressing recipe. I knew it was time.
I had a group of friends coming for dinner and served this as an antipasto, as we'd had it, with a salad on the side.

It would also make a great side dish with your Thanksgiving turkey, or grilled meats or poultry. In fact, it's filling enough to serve as a light lunch, brunch or supper entree with a bigger salad.

You might see fresh chestnuts in local markets, but I'd go with jarred cooked chestnuts. They're available at Fresh Market and Whole Foods, and at some local supermarkets.

You can prepare the onions for the final baking a couple of hours before dinner and bake when you're ready for them. Or you could do the first baking, add the chestnut stuffing, cover and chill up to a day ahead. Let them come to room temperature and then add the cheese and butter right before baking.

I didn't have any leftovers but if I had I would have chopped it all together and mixed it with sliced potatoes and then continued with my basic scalloped potato recipe. Doesn't that sound yummy?

Chestnut Stuffed Onions

4 large yellow onions
2 tbsp. minced parsley
1 tbsp minced fresh sage
1 tbsp minced fresh thyme leaves
1 large pinch freshly grated nutmeg
Extra virgin olive oil
8 oz cooked chestnuts
2 tbsp sweet Marsala wine
1 more pinch nutmeg
8 slices pancetta
4 tbsp freshly grated parmesan cheese
Cold butter
1/2 cup dry white wine (or chicken stock)
Fresh thyme sprigs for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375o. Cut a thin slice off the stem and root ends so the onion will set level in the baking pan. Peel the onions and cut them in half crosswise. Place in a well oiled baking dish just large enough to hold them all in one layer. Sprinkle with the parsley, sage, thyme and nutmeg, and salt and pepper lightly. Sprinkle with olive oil. Cover the dish tightly (with lid or foil) and bake for 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, finely chop the chestnuts and mix with the wine and nutmeg. Raise the oven temperature to 400o. Place a slice of pancetta over each onion half. Divide the stuffing among the onions and mound on top of the pancetta. Sprinkle with the grated cheese. Using a vegetable peeler, make a shavings of butter and place one on each onion half. Pour the wine into the pan around the onions.

Bake uncovered for 15-20 minutes, until onion is tender and topping is lightly browned. Place on a serving platter (or individual dishes) and garnish with fresh thyme sprigs. Serves 8.
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