In A Word: Decadence
I generally don’t like to run recipes with the same featured ingredient too close together (variety is the spice of life after all), but I just can’t help myself this time. This dish is so very beautiful and decadent - not to mention timely considering the fast approaching holidays – that I wanted to give you a good week or more to ferret out a place to get some chestnuts for yourself. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
Thanks to a tip from Melissa at Traveler’s Lunchbox, I recently got a warmly scented box of bulk vanilla and saffron in the mail from Vanilla, Saffron Imports. I’m hoping to undertake her homemade vanilla extract project soon, but for now thought I’d test out my first bean in the juices of these mulled chestnuts. The fragrant hint of vanilla and the flecks of beans in the rich amber sauce was perfect. Makes me excited to see what I can conjure up for the saffron… but more on my plans for that later.
Now for my favorite part of this recipe: the port wine. Most mulled chestnut recipes out there call for red wine. As much as it might horrify foodies everywhere, I rather detest red wine. Love the white stuff but think it must be the higher levels of tannins in the reds that turn me off. On the other hand, tawny port wine in particular is high on my list of most savored beverages, second only to a sweet liquor called Irish Mist that I discovered while living in Belfast. With deep dark flavor – almost chocolaty - and a lusciousness on the tongue, port is a wonderful accompaniment to any dessert. As such, it was only a small leap, just a tiny hop really, to come upon the idea of making port part of dessert itself.
By the way, I might just make a journey to Portugal in the next few months to “research” the origins and culture of this traditional wine that first made its appearance in the Duoro Valley in Northern Portugal. Wouldn’t you love to see some blogging about that?!? Who wants to contribute to the “Send Jennie to the Iberian Peninsula Fund”?
Seriously though, to get back to the dish at hand, the culmination of vanilla, port, cinnamon and citrus flavors enveloping the buttery text and nutty taste of the chestnuts is truly decadent. Perfect for a holiday party, the sheer richness of the mulled chestnuts means you don’t need to make as much since each guest will surely be satisfied with just a half cup top with a dollop of sweetened mascarpone cheese. The recipe below is just for two servings since I wasn’t hosting a holiday party (yet), but it is easily doubled, tripled, quadrupled…what’s the word for making five times as much? Anyway, you get the idea. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had such a rich dessert, or any dish for that matter. Definitely worthy of any gourmand’s finest festive spread for both Thanksgiving and the Yuletide season.
CHESTNUTS MULLED IN VANILLA PORT WINE
Loosely taken from www.merchant-gourmet.com
1 c. shelled chestnuts, roughly chopped
2 T. sugar
2 T. water
2/3 c. tawny port wine
zest of one lemon
2 cinnamon sticks
1 vanilla bean
1 T. grape or red current jelly
1 T. cornstarch
1/4 c. mascarpone cheese
1 t. confectioners’ sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves. While that dissolves, cut vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrap out the beans inside. Add to saucepan along with pod halves. When sugar is dissolved, add the port, lemon zest, and cinnamon sticks to the saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
Add the chestnuts and jelly, stirring until the jelly melts. Simmer for 8 minutes. Blend the cornstarch with a little water. Add to saucepan and simmer for 2-3 minutes more until liquid thickens noticeably.
Combine cheese, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla extract in a small bowl, mixing until smooth. Remove chestnuts from heat and divide into two serving dishes. Add a generous dollop of sweetened cheese and garnish with a vanilla pod piece and a cinnamon stick. Serve warm.