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In the Kitchen With Ricky: Chestnuts with pearl onions are a nutty Thanksgiving side dish

UPDATED: Mon., Nov. 22, 2021

By Ricky Webster For The Spokesman-Review

Thanksgiving is upon us, and if you’re reading this and still in need of one last side dish for the big feast, well then it better be an easy one. That is just what I have for you this week – a quick and scrumptious accompaniment to serve with all your other favorite turkey day dishes.

The harvesting of chestnuts takes place mid-September through November, so it only makes sense why they’re celebrated so much at this time of year. I did not grow up eating chestnuts and only knew of them for the numerous mentions in Christmas songs.

It wasn’t until I was older and cooking professionally that I wanted to taste and work with this holiday staple. At first, I wasn’t the biggest fan of them but quickly learned that they offer a nice texture to a variety of dishes.

I did enjoy them in sweet applications and learned of multiple chestnut desserts when visiting Europe in the fall some years back. They are equally wonderful prepared savory, and this dish is one where they’re the star.

Being of Portuguese descent and looking into my culture in the past few years, I learned that chestnuts are a vital part of the economy in northern Portugal, so you can imagine they’re prepared and consumed in many ways.

I am taking inspiration from a classic chestnut and pork preparation for the recipe below, which I hope becomes a staple at your holiday table. These sweet, starchy and almost creamy nuts really don’t have the popularity here in the States that they do over in Europe, but they are easy to incorporate into many dishes during this season.

I encourage you to grab a pack the next time you’re at the grocery store and they happen to catch your eye. I love them added to stuffing and dressing, rice dishes, tossed in the pan drippings of a roast or even pureed into a soup.

Chestnuts With Pearl Onions

2 (6.5-ounce packages) of roasted chestnuts (see note)

1 (14-ounce) bag frozen pearl onions, thawed

½ pound thick-sliced bacon, cut into small strips

½ teaspoon chili flakes (optional)

1 bay leaf

Pinch of nutmeg

2 tablespoons maple syrup

Kosher salt and pepper, to taste

Chopped parsley, for garnish

Over medium low-heat in a large skillet, render the bacon pieces for about 10 minutes, or until crisp and browned.

Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain and reserve the rendered fat in the pan.

Over medium heat, cook the onions, pepper flakes (if using) and bay leaf in the reserved bacon fat. This should take about 10 minutes, or until nicely browned.

Remove the bay leaf from the pan and sprinkle in the nutmeg, kosher salt and black pepper, to taste.

Return the crisped bacon back to the pan along with the chestnuts and maple syrup.

Combine the mixture gently, almost folding the ingredients, as the chestnuts are delicate, and you want them to remain whole.

Once the mixture is heated through and the pan is almost dry (meaning no large amount of grease is remaining), season again to taste with salt and pepper.

Remove from the heat and top with chopped parsley for added color and serve.

Yield: 8 servings

Note: The roasted chestnuts are vacuum sealed and usually found in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Make sure to get them without sugar.

Local award-winning chef and Rind and Wheat owner Ricky Webster can be reached at ricky@rindandwheat.com. Follow Webster on Instagram @rickycaker.

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