22 October 2013

An Autumn Walk on Gellatly Nut Farm and Chestnut Risotto with Butternut Squash

Chestnut Risotto with Butternut Squash based on a Recipe from Bon Appetit
Once Thanksgiving has come and gone it is time to switch gears and envelope ourselves in warm, cuddly sweaters, start a crackling fire and begin to browse through trusted cookbooks for comforting dishes to ward off any chill in the air. Living in Canada cold weather is an inevitable and unavoidable part of winter. Since I won't be moving to the Bahamas any time soon my thoughts move over to soul-warming dishes made with quintessential  produce such as chestnuts, earthy mushrooms, squash and pumpkin. I am forced to think of ways to not only keep warm during the cold winter months but warm the cockles of my heart. Food plays a huge role. It is not uncommon in fall or winter for my home to be filled with warm, fragrant and earthy aromas of a slow cooked roast or a bubbling crock pot.

Inevitably my thoughts turn to my travels. The romantic in me draws a fine line between reality and real life with constant daydreaming. In Italy, the beginning of the autumn season is more than just a drop in temperatures, the changing colours of the landscape, or the reappearance of warm sweaters and scarves in our wardrobes. Here, where regional cooking is still very much connected to the land, the change of season is also evident in the markets and on the kitchen tables across the country. As we now bid farewell to summer for another year, the abundance of Italy’s autumn foods are just waiting to be discovered. Even here in Canada my kitchen reflects the seasons.

Autumn arrives across Italy with the grape harvest (la vendemmia), when the heavy clusters of grapes warmed in the summer sun are carefully cut from the vines and wineries burst to life. Along the rolling hills and terraces, the vines are already heralding the change of season with their many hues of yellows and reds. But ripening grapes are not the only treat you will find in Italy during the fall. October is also the month of castagne (chestnuts), and nothing says autunno more than the warm scent of roasting chestnuts. Right now the chestnuts are maturing in their prickly burrs, and will soon coat Italy’s country roads, ready to be collected.

Ravello on the Amalfi Coast, Italy
However, chestnuts aren’t just for “roasting on an open fire” as the song goes. Fall is a heavenly time for food lovers to travel in Italy. Not only are the markets full of these autumn specialties, but from northern Italy to the tip of the boot you will discover countless sagre dedicated to every type of mushroom, nut and fresh autumn crop imaginable. There is no better way to experience regional Italian cuisine than with a good dose of culture and fun that you’ll enjoy at one of these celebrations. Chestnuts have been a staple of Campanian cooking since ancient times, and sampling traditional recipes at a Sagra della Castagna (Chestnut Festival) is a real treat.

During October in the splendid little village of Scala, perched precariously on the cliffs on the Amalfi coast, there is the annual festival of the chestnuts. The sagra is a celebratory moment that links tradition and gastronomy while celebrating this humble nut. I missed this celebration by days when I was on the coast but was still able to enjoy a "chestnut-centric" meal in one of the small family owned establishments. A walk along The Path of the Gods led me through fragrant pine tree forests, fragrant citrus groves, remote villages and chestnut forests.

Gellatly Nut Farm in West Kelowna
But we don't have to spend thousands of dollars on a trip to Europe when we can enjoy a plethora of nuts right here in the Okanagan Valley from the Gellatly Nut Farm. I need to constantly remind myself that we LIVE in a tourist destination with white sand beaches, vineyard culture and a food mecca. It is so easy to take it all for granted. A few weekends ago Dina of Olive Oil and Lemons and myself ventured to this heritage property once owned by David Erskine Gellatly and his family who emigrated from Scotland. In 1900 they purchased 320 acres at what is now known as Gellatly Point. The family laboriously cleared the land by hand and began planting crops. David Jr. and his brother Jack began testing and experimenting with varieties of nuts suitable for cultivation in the seasonal climate of Canada. Their objective was to develop cultivars that combined high quality kernels with tree and bud hardiness.  Apparently, the farm property was saved from the well-meaning ambitions of a developer in 1998, when nearby residents came together to veto an application to turn the farm into a lakeside condo resort and marina. The area was designated a regional park and opened as the Gellatly Nut Farm in 2005. Here they are still researching and planting nut varieties to diversify and expand the grove.

At the regional park a variety of nuts can be harvested and purchased, but many people simply come to stroll the serpentine pathways which wind amongst the trees. It is a favourite of professional photographers and there are outdoor weddings held there as well. In fact we tiptoed around as a wedding was in progress during our visit. The treetops are intertwined, forming long columned halls. Many of these majestic trees are over 100 years old creating an atmosphere as solemn and ethereal as a cathedral. We couldn’t resist picking up a few nuts strewn across the property while rustling through the fallen leaves. From the little store at the end of the pathway I purchased chestnuts and creamy butternuts (similar to walnuts but without that bitter aftertaste, that are sure to show up in future recipes). It was that time of year again when the sweet chestnuts are falling. Very few chestnut trees grow near us that are nothing more than inedible horse chestnuts, but on the other side of the lake, on Whittle Road in West Kelowna their prickly casings are scattered over the forest floor looking like hundreds of hedgehogs curled up against the nippy air just waiting for adventurous cooks to snap them up.

Chestnuts are the large edible seeds of the sweet chestnut tree. They are in a prickly case called a burr, which splits open when ripe in the autumn making them considerably easier to harvest.  You need gloves to handle these prickly casings. The chestnut is an ancient plant. Fossils of chestnut leaves millions of years old have been found around the globe. People started cultivating the trees during the 6th century BC and chestnuts became part of their staple diet. They have been cultivated in the Mediterranean for at least 3,000 years,

In Italy, every part of the tree is used. The leaves became litter for cow byres while the wood has many uses. I have tried a soup with the peeled chestnuts and had them ground into flour for homemade bread. The flavour of the creamy white chestnut flesh is sweet and somewhat starchy with a crisp texture. Fresh chestnuts have the consistency of potatoes when boiled or roasted. Store chestnuts in the fridge in a breathable container such as a brown paper bag. They will last up to a month. Alternatively they can also be frozen raw or after being cooked.

Some of the nuts grown at the farm
To cook chestnuts score their brown outer skin with a sharp knife with an “x” and roast in a hot oven (425-450 degrees F) for 15 - 20 minutes. They will have the texture of a baked potato. Peel and eat. Singed fingers cannot be helped.

To peel and use in stews or stuffings, score with an “x” and pour boiling water over them and let the chestnuts sit for approximately 20 minutes. They should peel easily...even the fuzzy inner layer which is bitter.

The inspiration for this risotto dish came from a walk along the sun-dappled paths of a historical farm in the Okanagan Valley. My thoughts drifted to an early morning hike where we wandered along cobbled mule-tracks or footpaths in Italy through olive and lemon groves and chestnut forests to descend into a deep densely forested valley carpeted in green moss.

When I travel or simply wander on a crisp autumn day I have always taken hundreds, if not thousands, of photos. Long before blogging I was taking photos of the food at my table while on even the smallest of adventures. There’s something so evocative to me about pictures of food and the power they have to vividly remind me of mouth-watering meals and moments that I’ve had on my adventures. I can look at my culinary photos and remember exactly where I was, the scent of the dish placed in front of me, and the way the flavours opened up on my palate. In many cases the taste or smell of something in my past is capable of painting a picture with richer, deeper brush strokes than any snapshot in my photo album. Recreate a delicious risotto with autumn flavours in your kitchen and I guarantee you will make your own food memories.

European Chestnuts from Gellatly Nut Farm

**Chestnut Risotto with Butternut Squash**
based on a recipe from Bon Appetit

6 cups low-salt chicken broth
1/4 cup Riesling or other wine on the sweeter scale
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1/2 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups (10 ounces) arborio rice
2 cups peeled roasted chestnuts*, or jarred chestnuts, finely chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh marjoram
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

Bring chicken broth to boil in medium saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to low; cover and keep warm.

Meanwhile, heat oil and 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, chestnuts and squash; cook until onion is translucent, stirring often, about 10 minutes.

Add garlic and cook until fragrant, being careful not to burn it.

Add rice to the onion-squash-chestnut mixture and stir to coat the grains with the butter, cooking about 2-3  minutes until rice is translucent at the edges but still opaque in the centre. Add the wine and cook, stirring, until liquid evaporates.

Add 1 cup warm broth; simmer until almost absorbed, stirring often, about 4 minutes. Add more broth, 1 cup at a time, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding next until rice is just tender, stirring frequently, about 25 minutes total. Stir in thyme, and marjoram. Remove from heat; stir in remaining 1 tablespoon butter, cheese, and parsley. Season risotto with salt and pepper and serve.

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author/owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison. Best Blogger Tips


  1. I loved looking inside the nuts! And I am making that risotto. I am drooling just looking at it. I don't know why I haven't tried pumpkin in risotto before.

  2. Lovely "day dreaming"! The photos are as beautiful as the memories. The recipe is similar to one I use and it came from Bon Appetit. I've been trying to purge some cooking magazines but so far, only a few--those being heavily "clipped".


  3. A fabulous walk. Those landscapes are breathtaking and your risotto must taste really good.



  4. I loved all of the information about the chestnut festivals in Italy. How lucky you are to have Gellaty Nut Farm close by. Your risotto looks rich and delicious. Just what we need on these cool nights.

  5. Mesmerizing pictures. I am going to buy chestnut for sure!

  6. Oh, that risotto look so perfect, Val! I am looking for different ways to use pumpkin and had never thought of that. Beautiful.
    Have a great Tuesday.

  7. Thank you for all of the information about the chestnuts. I'm a novice on the subject. Your risotto is spectacular and so perfect for fall.

  8. This risotto would certainly warm you from the inside out!

  9. I'm so thrilled to learn all of these things about chestnuts and to see your recipe. Though I cook a ton, chestnuts are one ingredient I haven't ventured into!

  10. I loooovvvee chestnuts in savory food! This risotto looks fabulous! So infused with fall flavor.

  11. Val, what a lovely article tying together your food memories from your travels and locally. That was a fun day at the "nut farm" (lol). The risotto with chestnuts is a great idea. It looks creamy in the picture, just the way I like it.

  12. Yay for the community that saved the Gellatly Point property!
    My husband family in Spain has a chestnut tree and the favorite thing to do is to pick them and eat them when they are tender.

  13. Oh Val, those shots are gorgeous and so wonderfully Autumnal. :-) The risotto sounds amazing, pure comfort. :-)

  14. My daughter-in-law has a few trees in front of her house...perfect weather for this dish...lovely Val...

  15. what a unique and alluring risotto! i don't think i've ever tasted a chestnut, but i'd no doubt love them in this!

  16. Amazing photos Val! The risotto looks beautiful and comforting.

  17. Here (Los Angeles) T-Gives has not come and gone. Though I cannot travel to Italy or even the Okanagan Valley i hope we will soon get that nip in the air that would make the season feel right, GREG

  18. What a wonderful combination of flavors and unique way to use chestnuts! My parents are Sicilian; my father born and raised there and all their family. Our kitchen was always filled with seasonal ingredients from his garden, but come fall the chestnuts were roasted or boiled and used from breakfast through dessert! I know my dad would have loved this dish!

  19. Sagra della castagna in Scala, to bad I missed it!!! The Nut Farm in West Kelowna looks beautiful and peaceful. Wish I could visit Canada now.

  20. What beautiful photos Val! I did not get the chance to visit Ravella, but have read so much about it . . . someday I hope to visit! You are so fortunate to have some chestnuts in your area! I have to go to Trader Joe's to buy some chestnuts and now you've put me in the mood for this autumnal treat! What a delicious and colorful risotto! Heavenly!

  21. Well that was interesting. I've never seen a chestnut other than what I find at the market. What a strange nut. :) Lovely post! You do live in a tourist attraction! Delicious looking risotto!

  22. Devoured every word! Excellent post! Where is the best place for me to get hazelnuts from the okanagan? V

    1. The only place I know of to get hazelnuts from the Okanagan is at Gellatly nut farm where they grown them. Of course they will be sold out for the season.

    2. DARN! DOUBLE DARN! That is the place I have heard about. MUST order some next year. OXOXOXOXOX Have you toured there?

    3. I don't think you can order them. The property was purchased by the BC government and is a park run by volunteers. You can go pick them in the fall or they have small quantities at a volunteer run store.

    4. I just read they are grown commercially in the Fraser Valley so Chilliwack, Agassiz, etc.


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