Nosh: Chestnut Crepes with Mushrooms and Radicchio

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I. ~~~LOVE~~~. Chestnuts.

I’d never had them until a few years ago, as they were profoundly not a part of the diet on which I grew up, AND I was fussy for a long time, AND they’re not all that readily available.  A few facts about the noble chestnut:

The American chestnut treeCastanea dentata, at one point was abundantly found in much of the US.  However, it was extremely susceptible to chestnut blight, a fungus introduced by Asiatic chestnut trees.  Within a few decades the blight killed an estimated three billion (yes, with a B) American chestnut trees.

Corn is a new-world crop.  So polenta, the fancy Italian cornmeal mash (it’s like grits, with Parmigiano-Reggiano), was originally made with chestnut flour.  Or chickpea flour.  Or buckwheat flour.  As polenta was made with whatever sort of meal was readily available, it was considered a “poor-man’s food“.  Think about that next time you stare down a $25 plate of polenta at some schmancy restaurant.

The chestnut is also known as the “chinquapin” which, as any dedicated chick-flick watcher would know, is the name of the fictional parish in Louisiana in which Steel Magnolias is set.

Go, Dolly! Sell that shrimp for the Chinquapin Women's Club!

OK, now that I’m on a partial Dolly diversion AND, for some reason, this song’s been in my head for the last few days…

And so.  Back to the food.

We made chestnut crepes, and forgive me if I’m slacking but I’m too lazy right now to learn how to put in the diacritical without going to the character map time after time after time.  So.  Ever forward!  I forget what I was looking for that put me on their scent, but I’ve become a tremendous fan of crepes of all ilk, and when combined with my aforementioned love of the noble chestnut…<shrug>…  Like I had a choice.

I used Mario Batali‘s recipe because why not make use of one of America’s greatest culinary minds?  From what I understand, Italians call their crepes “crespelle“, so I’m a little surprised that’s not what Signore Batali calls them, but what the hell.  And so, without further ado (though with ample and unrepentant commentary), chestnut crepes with mushrooms and radicchio.

First up: make the batter.

The start of something good.

Here is one of my quibbles with this recipe: the ingredient list calls for butter in the batter (no, I’m not trying to Seussically rhyme), but the directions don’t tell you how to make use of the butter.  Following the lead of the nice person who commented on the recipe web page, I also, simply, omitted said butter.  They were still delicious without it.  The directions also say to let the batter sit for twenty minutes to an hour, but you can let it sit longer.  Mine probably sat for three or four hours, as we mixed it in the early afternoon.  Just don’t let it sit for any less than twenty minutes.  Do you hear me?  Just don’t.

Next, mushrooms.  Again, this is central PA and I don’t have nearly as much access to nearly as much fresh produce as I would like at any given point.  I also really really thought that–first time making this dish, at least–I should use what’s fresh and available, hence my pound of white buttons and creminis.  Chopped, fairly small.

If you keep applying your knife to your mushrooms, you too can have small shroomy bits.

This goes into a saucepan with some shallots and–because I can’t help myself and (you surely know this by now) have no regard for the integrity of a recipe–some garlic…

Garlic is my master...I hear and obey...

…and the thyme and rosemary.

Just let them simmer in their natural mushroomy goodness that's being released, no broth necessary and oh my word but the house smelled so good.

Once those are done, set them aside and get started on your crepe making.

There are those who insist you need special equipment–a crepe pan, a spreader, something that measures the humidity of your batter (I confess, I made that last one up)–but the truth is, you don’t.  I don’t even have a non-stick pan, partly because of a fairly irrational (and at this point, unfounded) fear of Teflon and partly because I simply prefer cast iron or stainless.  For crepes, I use my trusty, have-owned-for-twenty-something-years-and-hasn’t-let-me-down-yet cast iron skillet.

Second quibble with this recipe: It says each crepe should be poured out in increments of one-and-a-half tablespoons.  Unforch, I don’t have a handy one-and-a-half tablespoon measuring scoop, and I can’t think of anyone who does.  Plus, the batter is thin and will start to set up immediately once it hits a hot pan, so you can’t really spoon out out tablespoon and then go back in for the half.  I used a 1/8 cup measuring scoop, and it worked just fine.

Get your pan going to a nice medium heat, and coat it with whatever sort of fat you’re using.  Most people, for crepes, use butter.  I generally use olive oil.  Whatever you’re using, just have enough ready (in a bowl, melted if necessary) so you can re-grease the bottom of the pan during crepefication.  You don’t have to do so after every crepe, but you should be ready at all times.  Anyway.  In the pan!  And then give it a swirl so the batter distributes and wait about a minute or so.

Flip! And perfect.

See?  It doesn’t have to be perfectly round to be perfect.  Tastes just as good, that’s for certain.

And now, fill.  As a warning: the batter is thin.  The crepes will be thin.  They will probably tear when you’re stuffing some of them.  That doesn’t make you a bad person.

Here is my final quibble about this recipe: He tells you to put some stuffing in the crepe and then fold, but there are no instructions on how to fold.

Uh...now what?

I realize now I should have folded them in half and then in half again, like you do with the traditional crepes suzette…

Shoulda, woulda, coulda.

Instead, I folded them like little burritos.  Now I know better for next time.  And there will be a next time.

It turned out that I had more crepes than I had ‘shrooms, so I stuffed the remainder with some leftover fennel braised in orange juice and had a little mix & match crepe feast.  FYI, if you make this fennel recipe and there are only two of you, halve the recipe because otherwise you’ll end up with a tremendous, nearly practical-joke-sized amount of leftover braised fennel and while I love it, it’s a pretty easy thing to have enough of quickly and want to move on.  But it is delicious; I would make it for a fancy dinner.

Braised fennel: not a bad way to have a makeshift crepe filling.

Once it’s out of the oven, top with the thinly-sliced radicchio dressed in balsamic vinaigrette, and shave on a little Parmigiano-Reggiano, and you’re good to go.

It's like a Borg: Resistance is futile.

We served this with a beautiful green salad and skillet cauliflower gratin (which is OMFG so good and one of the few recipes I go back to all the time), and enjoyed every last morsel of it’s crepey goodness.  The fennel was fun but the earthiness of the mushrooms played off the sweetness of the chestnut in an amazing harmony.  And when you mix that with the bitter bite of radicchio?  You’re pretty much covering all your savory bases.  This is a definite keeper.  Enjoy!

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6 responses »

    • You should try them. They’re rich and savory and a little bit sweet and totally delicious. If you can get them peeled and ready to eat, do so, because it IS a bit of a pain to roast the nuts and get them out of their shells. But seriously…they are SOOOOO good. If you do try & like, I have a great recipe for them with Brussels sprouts… :)

  1. Once again, your nosh has me slavering.

    And chestnuts rock! I first ate them on a street corner in London, where vendors roast them on big metal drums all around the tourist spots (kind of like the New York hot dog and pretzel guys, only more DIckensian). I would come out of the British Museum in the evening and be hit by the most wonderful smell: wood smoke and roasted, nutty goodness. Even if I wasn’t really hungry I had to stop and buy a handful. The shells were scored in a criss-cross pattern, so you just peeled them back and popped the crunchy, steamy nugget in your mouth.

    Damn. So now I am slavering, AND wishing I were in London!

    • I don’t remember where I first had them, but I do adore them. Wait! Yes I do! Lucca’s used to get chestnut coffee at Christmastime, and that was the first time I ever tasted anything chestnut. Loved them ever since. LOL Yay, random memory generation!

      And who are you kidding; you always want to be in London. ;)

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