The smoky-sweet aroma of roasting chestnuts always and instantly whips me back to the Millennium Bridge in London. The vendor’s pitch is on the St Paul’s side. He stands behind the stainless-steel cart in his Santa hat, dragging the sweet nuts around the bowl, trying to keep them from catching and himself warm.
It’s December. Saturday. I’ve finished work at Tate Modern and I’m weaving my way between meandering tourists. Entangled couples, families, little groups of friends stopping to take selfies on the bridge as they make their way back to hotels, Airbnb’s, restaurants for an early dinner. We are all making our way across the thin blade of aluminium floating above the silent, slowly moving black ribbon of the Thames below. They are in no hurry to get anywhere. I am always in a great hurry to get home after standing on my feet all day. The dome of St Paul’s Cathedral is a glowing beacon blinking through the crowds. The air is crisp, trying to catch your breath. The crowds are treacle thick.
No-one is buying from the vendor. There are no queues waiting for a little bag of warm, seasonal treats. Maybe they too have seen him on the other side of the bridge, taking a leak behind the hedge beside the swathe of silver birch trees in front of Tate Modern.
I’ve been tramping over little green hedgehog-like chestnut shells throughout autumn. I haven’t foraged for any. I haven’t created my own little brazier to roast them. Instead, I’ve been buying them vac packed from the supermarket, enjoying the glistening little globes from the bag and their ready-to-use convenience. I've been using them regularly this autumn in other recipes. They make the mushroom and chestnut filling for this recipe pretty quick to make if you have made the pasta ahead of time. And they offer a lovely sweetness to contrast withe deep savouriness of the sage pesto.
For the pasta
100g pasta '00' flour
For the filling
100g chestnut mushrooms, roughly chopped
50g chestnuts, cooked and roughly chopped
20g dried porchini mushrooms (soaked in 100ml boiling water for 30 minutes before using and keep the liquor)
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper to season
1 tbsp olive oil
For the pesto
10g walnuts, toasted
1 tbsp parmesan
salt and pepper to taste
squeeze of lemon juice
1 tbsp olive oil (to start and then add to your preference)
Make the pasta. Make a heap on a board with the flour and create a little well. Crack the egg into the middle and begin to beat the egg and work the flour in to create a dough. Knead until it is smooth and elastic. Shape it into a ball and cover it, leaving it in the fridge to rest for about an hour.
Make the filling. Heat the oil in a pan and add the onion, cooking gently until soft. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute before adding the chestnut mushrooms. Cook until soft. Chop and add the porcini mushrooms, chestnuts, the liquor, thyme, nutmeg and seasoning and cook until the liquid has evaporated. Whizz in a food processor until you get a smooth paste.
Make the pesto. Simply wizz in a food processor until you create a pesto of the consistency you prefer. I don't like mine to be too smooth, I like to see little flecks of sage. You could also pound the pesto ingredients in a mortar if you prefer.
Take the pasta out of the fridge and on a floured board, begin to roll out until it is about a millimetre thick. You could also use a pasta machine, but this is much more satisfying.
Bring it together. Using a glass, or an espresso cup (or a fancy pasta cutter), cut out the pasta circles. The number you get will depend on the size of the glass you use. I used a little pasta cutter I bought in Rome and it turned out twenty. Place a teaspoon of the filling in the centre of each pasta shape and bring the edges together, squeezing to seal them.
Place the pasta in boiling water and cook for about three minutes or until the pasta floats to the surface. Drain the water and add a dollop of the pesto. Sprinkle with parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil.