It all started when I spotted a big box of chestnuts at the fruit and vegetable shop. Shiny brown little beauties beckoning me to sink my hand in, clutch a big handful and take them home. What could I do with them?
I wanted something that matched the current season. Something that was warming, a little rich and with simple flavours. At first I thought about using some good homemade sausages but when I came across a hunk of smoked pork thigh, or speck, I knew it would go nicely with the chestnuts. Chestnuts and smokey meat? Um, hello!
To keep things earthy and delicious I threw in some thickly sliced leek stems. Whole shallots would be fine, but the flavour of leek goes perfectly with the pork and chestnuts.
I couldn’t help but pretend that I was in some stone farmhouse surrounded by wild rosemary shrubs on the rocky Istrian coastline, pottering away in the kitchen. And yes, those imaginary rosemary shrubs came in handy with this dish as well.
If only that was how things happened.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sear the slices of pork on both sides until very lightly golden. Set the pork aside as you lightly colour the chunks of leek, along with the garlic. Cook these for 3 minutes.
Add the balsamic, red wine and rosemary and, if using a gas flame, tip the pan so the flame catches the wine and ignites it. Alternatively, use a gas lighter to ignite the wine to burn off the alcohol. When the flame extinguishes return the pork to the pan and arrange it in a single layer or slightly overlap it. Pour over the stock to cover the pork completely and bring to the boil. Check for seasoning then reduce the heat as low as possible.
Cover the skillet with a lid or foil and allow to very gently simmer for 45-60 minutes. Turn the pork slices over and add the chestnuts, spooning the liquid over them. If there isn’t much liquid in the pan, add a little water. Once the chestnuts have gone in try not to mix things around too much as they will crumble. Cook for a further 20 minutes or so, just to the point of the liquid reducing by two thirds.
Serve hot with steamed asparagus spears tossed in a little virgin olive oil and seasoning. And loads of crusty bread.
* If using fresh chestnuts, cut a cross into the side of each chestnut and boil in water for 8 minutes, or bake for 20 minutes at 240°C. Peel when cool enough to handle, leaving the flesh whole. If using frozen chestnuts, be sure they’re defrosted before using. No need to boil them as they’ll cook with the pork.