Secrets of better cooking, 761pp.
by The Reader’s Digest Association
Pleasantville, New York, 1973
Cooking on page 432
This is one of the first cookbooks I ever owned. It’s a good all-rounder, with chapters on nutrition, shopping, kitchen equipment, the science of food, herbs and spices, working with flour, plenty of other basics and a slew of recipes.
One of the first recipes I ever cooked from it—Brussels sprouts and chestnuts—was for an autumn barbecue. I know what many of you are saying—eew, I hate Brussels sprouts. I even have a daughter who doesn’t want to eat them. But on this occasion, they were a complete success: even the sprout haters loved them!
When I turned to this weighty book for a recipe, I thumbed past 32 with its shopping tips, 132 with a spiel on using borage flowers, 232 with variations on omelets (but I’ve done an omelet before), and 332 with some basic instructions on cooking poultry.
So I arrived at page 432 and there it was—Brussels sprouts and chestnuts.
Brussels sprouts and chestnuts
Ingredients and method
Used canned unsweetened water-packed chestnuts, imported from France, or buy fresh chestnuts. Use 1 pound fresh chestnuts or one 8-ounce can of water-packed chestnuts for each 2 quarts of Brussels sprouts.
To prepare fresh chestnuts, make a crisscross on the flat top of each nut with a sharp-pointed knife. Cover with cold water, bring to a boil and cook for 20 minutes. Then remove the hard shell and the brown skin covering the chestnut. Cook the peeled chestnuts in salted water, or in chicken or beef stock if you prefer, for 10 to 20 minutes, or until tender. Drain.
If using canned chestnuts, just drain them.
Cook the Brussels sprouts (instructions for this appear prior to the recipe and involve using similar-sized sprouts, trimming the outer leaves, cutting a cross in the bottom, blanching for 5 to 8 minutes and refreshing in cold water).
Melt 2 to 4 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan. Fry a few finely chopped green onions in this melted butter. Add the drained cooked Brussels sprouts and the chestnuts and toss together until hot. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve.
How it played out
Our friend, Norman, was coming from Sydney to visit for the weekend. He used to visit Canberra often, and stayed with a mutual friend, who has now moved to New Zealand. Because we all travel so much, we hadn’t caught up with Norman face-to-face for several years.
Obviously the coming weekend was going to be special, so I asked Norman what he’d like for dinner. How about lamb roast? He’d love it. Too easy. What about a veg? I love Brussels sprouts, came the reply. I know just the recipe, I said!
So I made half a batch, using fresh chestnuts bought on special at the markets ($3.99 a kilo). The sprouts were cheap too. It is autumn is Australia.
Of course, wrestling with chestnuts is the challenge. The shells come off easily enough, but the brown skins seem to be glued on. Fortunately, Norman was quite happy to help, so we chatted and peeled at the kitchen bench. Then I cooked these nuggets of deliciousness in beef stock.
Just as delicious as the very first time I made it many decades ago.