As with other roads, I often find that the road to Christmas is paved with good intentions.
This year, I will make my own Christmas wreath. This year I will make a Gingerbread House from scratch. This year, I will have all my christmas cards written and mailed by the first week of December. This year I will make the perfect standing rib roast. This year … blah blah blah blah …
In the end, it always seems to be a race against the Christmas clock. How in the world will we get it all done in time?
Somehow, though, it all comes together. It’s not perfect, mind you, but Christmas does arrive and the family is always gathered and much food is consumed and we all walk away happy.
In the great rush to Christmas, though, there are a few things that I insist on. One is the playing of Christmas carols. I don’t care how sick you may be of them, if you are within three feet of me anytime between December 1st to December 25th, you will be hearing Christmas carols.
Get used to it.
The second thing that I insist on are my mother’s beloved Ravioli di Castagna. I should qualify that by saying that while my mother makes them (brilliantly), these are a traditional sweet from my father’s side of the family (my father was born and raised in Le Marche, Italy).
I insist on these first and foremost because they are delicious. A mixture of pureed chestnut, cocoa and liquor is enrobed in pasta dough, shaped and cut into ravioli, fried and then sprinkled with sugar. Believe me, they’re hard to resist.
But I also insist on them because they are such a unique sweet and they represent the culinary legacy that my parents have given me. Christmas cannot be Christmas without Ravioli di Castagne.
As with many old family recipes, there really isn’t a recipe. I know. That’s very frustrating. But it’s true. There are general guidelines that every family adapts to suit their own tastes. While I wish that I could have taken the time to set down a recipe, I just haven’t had the opportunity. Of all the whirlwind Christmases, this has been the whirlwindiest.
Instead, I give you a photo essay (of sorts) to guide you through the process. If you have questions, please e-mail me and I’ll be happy to help as much as I can. I apologize in advance for some of the photos as they’re not the greatest.
These ravioli must begin with the very best chestnuts you can find. We’re lucky that in Toronto we’re able to buy chestnuts imported from Italy. While it’s expensive, it’s worth it.
The chestnuts are peeled prior to be being cooked. I never said that this was an easy recipe to make. There’s effort required, to be certain. The picture above is of my mother peeling the chestnuts. She didn’t want me to show the picture because she said her hands look awful but I actually thought that it was important to demonstrate that the good things in life do require effort!
Once peeled, the chestnuts are immersed in water and simmered until the skins loosen. The chestnuts are drained and once they’ve cooled down a bit, the skins are peeled off.
At one time, the chestnuts would then be put through a food mill or grinder but nowadays we rely on our food processor.
Once the chestnuts have been pureed, it’s time to build the filling. What you add to the filling can vary from family to family but we add coffee, sugar, sweetened and unsweetened cocoa and liquor, usually rum or brandy. Again, how much you add is up to the flavour you’re after but in our family we prefer a filling that has a strong chestnut flavour so we try not to overdue it with the other elements. Once combined, we let the mixture cool completely before using.
As with all ravioli, you need a pasta dough. Again there are many variations but my mother uses a mixture of flour, water, olive oil and white wine to form her dough.
From this point on, you follow the basic steps of ravioli-making. The pasta is rolled into thin sheets and ravioli are formed with the prepared chestnut filling.
Once the ravioli are formed, we heat vegetable oil in a large pan and fry the ravioli in batches. As soon as they are golden on all sides, we drain them on paper towels and sprinkle them with sugar.
It cannot be Christmas without these treats. And whatever other obstacles we may encounter on the road to Christmas, these help along the way to be sure.