Nigel Slater’s recipes for red leaves, warm cheese and chestnuts, and for chocolate chestnut cake

In savoury or sweet dishes, nothing captures the winter season like a glossy chestnut

Chestnuts are here: dark, plump and shiny – and flat on one side from where they have snuggled together in their spiky green cases. Sweet chestnuts grew in the woods near my childhood home. I’d squirrel them away in my duffel-coat pockets on the walk home from school. We roasted them over the fire, the occasional one cracking like a whip, sending out a spray of nut shrapnel.

Better, I think, is to roast them in an oven. A deep cross on their rounded side will stop them exploding and expose their flesh to the heat. This is how I cook them for eating as they are, not worrying about removing the brown skin. They are hard work, though, if you intend to purée them or use them in a dessert. I always turn to the ready-made purée and vacuum-packed whole nuts. They can be folded into a Christmas nut loaf, tossed with the aromatics of a pot-roast bird or into the filling of a chocolate tart or cake.

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