I seem to be doing a lot better at my goal of foraging for some of our food these days, perhaps because the fall forest is providing some easy pickings. In addition to the mushrooms, it is the season for nuts, and the forest near us has an abundance of sweet chestnuts. So much so in fact that one has to be careful when walking off of the path not to be divebombed by these prickly-podded treats, a bit like in Princess Bride in the fire swamp, except you can hear them falling through the leaves above, signaling you to try to dodge out of the way. The chestnuts have been a tasty snack, peeled and eaten raw as we meander about the forest with the dogs crashing through the brush around us, or indeed roasted over the open fire (we just had to give that a go, though I am a bit confused now as the chestnuts are falling in October and that is a Christmas song...). I had been simply filling my pockets with them, but a couple of days ago we went with the mushroom basket, and due to an odd dearth of mushrooms I went ahead and filled the basket with chestnuts.
(By the way I am very proud of this basket - I found it online for 8 euros. It is supposed to be a trout fishing basket! But the shoulder strap and flat side were exactly what I was looking for in an easy-to-carry mushrooming basket.)
However, chestnuts have a high water content and dry out very quickly, and not in a good way that other nuts will dry to keep for months, so last night I figured I needed to do something with my haul so they wouldn't go to waste, and I had the idea of roasting them in the oven and then putting them with potatoes for chestnut mash, which then gave me the idea of making a shepherd's pie. With no lamb or even beef about but instead quite a few veggies in the garden to eat, it became an experiment in a vegetarian, or one could say gardener's, pie. And I have to say it turned out to be quite delicious!
1 large onion
Several leaves of Swiss chard
1 good-sized (softball size) beet
Worcestershire sauce (leave this out if you want a 100% vegetarian recipe)
Beluga lentils (or you could use green)
Vegetable stock cube
Cheddar cheese (optional)
Start by pre-heating the oven to 200°C (400°F) while you prepare the chestnuts. Traditionally you cut an 'X' in them, but I simply sliced into them down the median line (a cut I used later), which was much quicker and easier. Spread them evenly in a roasting tray, then put them in the hot oven for 15-20 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool while you start making the bottom of the pie.
In a large pot, gently cook a large onion, diced, in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Season and add the carrots diced then the stems of the Swiss chard (I flip the leaves over so you can see the rib and use a sharp knife to cut along it, setting aside the green tops for later, then chopping the stems crosswise like celery), as well as the frozen peas. Add a knob of butter if you wish, as well as a few splashes of balsamic vinegar and worcestershire sauce while this is cooking down. Remove the beet greens and peel the beet and chop it finely to add to the pot (then rinse your board and hands if you don't want stains!). Get some water boiling in a kettle if you have one while you add the lentils and quinoa to stir through, then add just enough boiling water to cover the ingredients with an inch to spare. Add the stock cube, then turn down the heat and let this simmer for about 15-20 minutes before adding your roughly chopped chard and beet greens, along with a few swipes of grated nutmeg.
While that is reducing so as not to be too sloppy, peel your potatoes and cut them into large chunks and boil them for the mash. And while that is going, return to your chestnuts, cutting them in half along the nick mark from earlier and scraping the flesh out with a spoon. (I found this to be a lot easier than trying to peel them, plus it already broke down the chestnut flesh into small pieces, ready to be stirred through the mash.)
Turn your oven down to 180°C (350°F) and drain then mash the potatoes with butter and cream, S&P and a little nutmeg. Stir the chestnuts through the mash. Adjust the seasoning of the base of the pie if need be at this point (usually with the lentils and quinoa you'll need some more salt), probably adding a little more worcestershire for good measure, then cover it with the chestnut mash and top it all off with a layer of grated cheddar cheese.
Put it in the oven (with no lid) for about 30 minutes, or until the cheese is golden and bubbly on top, then serve up and enjoy!