On a lighter note than prior posts, it is chestnut season here in the temperate Northern Hemisphere. This fact is amazing in my book, because I would actually marry a chestnut tree. I love chestnuts and their sweet starchiness, which complements everything from chicken to chocolate.
As it happens, so too did medieval Jews enjoy chestnuts – preparations with chestnuts and onions were commonplace in the cuisine of Alsatian and German Jews, and still are in some forms. Meanwhile, Jews in the Balkans and Caucasus often adopted the chestnut-based sweet and savory dishes of their neighbors, like the utterly delectable churchkhela, a Georgian sweet made with grape must and chestnuts, to tempting pastries in chestnut-loving Croatia. Even today, many Jewish cuisines incorporate chestnuts – including in a delicious chestnut and meat stew, hamim de kastanya (or etli kestane) among Sephardic communities in Turkey.
In honor of the glorious chestnut I decided to make a kugel, using the Alsatian combination of chestnuts, onions, and apples – and somewhat inspired by Joan Nathan’s recipe, linked above, for a dish with prunes instead of apples. I used farfel, a traditional egg noodle from Eastern Europe, for the dish. Farfel was traditionally made from egg dough by Ashkenazi Jews, and was either grated or chopped depending on the region. In English the noodle also became known as “egg barley” for its size and its eggy base. Today, farfel is somewhat rarer than in times past, but is still commonplace in many Orthodox communities. It is also delicious – and rather easy to make at home; albeit time-consuming. Though traditionally served with mushrooms, farfel also goes well with meat, soups, and sweeter sauces. During Passover, matzah farfel – or crumbled matzah – serves as a nearly perfect substitute.
Farfel Kugel with Chestnuts, Onions, and Apples
8 oz/225g farfel (or another small noodle)
7oz/200g roasted chestnuts, diced – you can use prepackaged ones
2 medium apples, diced
1 large onion, diced
2 tbsp + 1 tsp salt
2 tsp+ ½ tsp black pepper
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp nutmeg
2 tbsp cider vinegar
2 tbsp water
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup sour cream
- Sauté the farfel in the 1 tbsp butter for three minutes, then cook for 20 minutes in 4 ½ cups boiling water, or until the farfel are soft and have absorbed all the water.
- Meanwhile, saute the chestnuts, apples, and onion in the other 2 tbsp butter for 3 minutes, or until the onions begin to soften.
- Mix in the 2 tbsp salt, 2 tsp black pepper, brown sugar, cinnamon, paprika, and nutmeg with the onion-apple-chestnut mixture, and cook, stirring, for another minute.
- Add the water and vinegar to the onion-apple-chestnut mixture, and cook for ten minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the apples are softer and the onions and chestnuts very soft.
- Preheat your oven to 400F/200C.
- Mix the onion-apple-chestnut mixture with the farfel until evenly distributed. Place into an oven-proof dish, greased if necessary with butter.
- In a separate bowl, mix the sour cream, eggs, salt, and black pepper until thoroughly combined. Then, mix into the farfel in the dish until evenly distributed. Make sure the mixture is level.
- Bake for 25 minutes, or until the mixture is set and the top is browned. Serve as a side or as a hearty main course.
Bonus: if you want to roast your own chestnuts, I recommend the guide from BBC Good Food.