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Chestnuts 101 and a Pancetta & Chestnut Stuffing

Aah, chestnuts – a traditional forager’s treat and extremely popular in Europe during winter. The delicious aroma of roasted chestnuts is something quite magical.  In South Africa, not many people know what to do with chestnuts so we thought we'd share some facts and tips.


Sweet chestnut trees are large and grow up to 30 m high.

Chestnuts have lots of prickly spikes on their outer shells and look like clusters of little hedgehogs.

These nuts fall from their trees in late autumn and if you are lucky enough to have a tree nearby, be sure to pick them up as soon as possible before to squirrels beat you to it.  Wear gloves when handling the spiky shells. When you break a casing open, you'll find generally about 3-4 nuts. Only gather firm plump nuts and avoid ones with little “drill” holes as this is a sign of weevil infestation. 


Fresh chestnuts can keep for a week at room temperature if kept in a single layer to allow the air to reach all of them. 

If you'd like to store them for 2 – 3 weeks, leave in their shells and store in a paper bag in the refrigerator. 

Chestnuts can be frozen in their shells. The texture deteriorates slightly but they taste just fine.


Use gloves and remove nuts from prickly shells.

Make a shallow X in the flat side of each nut with a sharp knife.

After cooking, chestnuts are easiest to peel when they are warm and damp. Whichever method of cooking you choose, be sure to wrap cooked chestnuts in a warm damp tea towel to keep warm while peeling a few nuts at a time. 


These are the two methods we prefer using.

Pan Roasting/ Grilling 

This is the most traditional way of cooking chestnuts and also gives the best flavour. Place slit nuts in a pan on a stove top or under the grill, give them a shake every so often. Roast until the shells split open and you see and hear steam escaping.

Oven baking

The most convenient way of doing large batches of nuts. Bake slit nuts on an oven proof tray and roast at 200°C until shells split open at cut. This should take +- 30 minutes. Give them a good shake every 10 minutes.

Now for a recipe incorporating cooked chestnuts!

This Pancetta and Chestnut Stuffing recipe is just so delicious.  This stuffing mixture is not stuffed into poultry (although it can be) but simply rolled into meatballs. The perfect addition to a Sunday roast or even served as a meal with mashed potatoes and veggies. If you can’t get fresh chestnuts, you'll find bottled or canned chestnuts at good delis and supermarkets as well as Asian food stores. This stuffing has an explosion of flavour and texture. We use Richard Bosman’s Toulouse sausage as the base of the mixture. This sausage is very French made with pork, bacon, wine and garlic and usually spiced with nutmeg. A substitute would be an Italian sweet sausage or a very good quality spiced pork sausage. The other main ingredients are pancetta and the cooked chestnuts. The pancetta (or streaky bacon) is used in the mixture as well as for wrapping the stuffing balls. The end result is super moist, mouth-watering meatballs. We should warn you, they are highly addictive and may linger in your mind for quite some time…Enjoy!

Pancetta & Chestnut Stuffing “Meatballs”

Serves: 6


50 g butter

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 stick celery, finely chopped

1 small leek, finely chopped

20 thin slices of pancetta(or streaky bacon), 8 finely chopped

2 fat cloves garlic, crushed

1 tbsp thyme leaves chopped

4 sage leaves, finely chopped

450 g Richard Bosman’s Toulouse sausages (or sweet Italian or spicy pork sausages), skins removed

2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped

150 g cooked chestnuts, roughly chopped

125 g fresh breadcrumbs

1 large beaten egg


Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Melt the butter in a large frying pan, Add onion, celery, leek and chopped pancetta. Cook for 5 minutes until softened but not coloured.

Add the garlic, thyme and sage and cook for a minute. Cool for 10 minutes.

Add the sausage meat to the cooled mixture with parsley, chestnuts, bread and egg. Season and mix well.

Roll and shape mixture into +- 12 balls and wrap each one with a rasher of pancetta. Place the balls in a lightly greased oven proof dish and bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until pancetta is golden and crispy. 

Serve immediately with a roast of your choice or simply on a bed of creamy mashed potatoes and steamed greens. Gorgeous!

TIP: Any leftover mixture, place in a small oven proof loaf tin and bake alongside the stuffing balls. Delicious the next day on sandwiches!

So go on, make mom a beautiful roast with the best stuffing she will ever taste this Mother’s Day!

And if you are still looking for a useful and fun gift for mom, why not purchase her a ticket to our Easy Entertaining cookery demo for Saturday morning 17 May?  It will be a day of sitting back and watching a pro whip up a delicious 3 course meal for tasting. Also, mom can bring in her knives and get them sharpened by our professional knife sharpener, Donovan! Click here for more details!


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