Sautéed Chestnuts, Onions, and Bacon

Please welcome guest author, the inimitable David Leite of Leite’s Culinaria. Looking for a good side for Christmas dinner? David shares one of his favorite recipes from his fabulous new cookbook, The New Portuguese Table ~Elise

I know within two bites if a holiday side dish is truly spectacular. Because I’ll have a nearly uncontrollable urge to elbow the turkey or ham off the table, pull the bowl to me, dunk my face in, and not come up for air until I’m finished.

Growing up, the object of my lust was my grandmother’s recheio com chouriço—a kicky bread stuffing studded with piquant chunks of my aunt’s homemade sausage; it was one of the few Portuguese dishes I would eat. Fending off cousins on both sides of my twisted family tree (there were so many of us we could’ve started our own touring Christmas chorale) wasn’t easy. But I did it, and I have the pictures of me as a corpulent fourth-grader with a self-satisfied grin to prove it.

After living in Portugal for the better part of 2007 researching my book The New Portuguese Table, I discovered this side dish, which is threatening to cause great calamity at our Christmas dinner this year. It’s a mix of chestnuts and large pearl onions sautéed in—what else? the fat of the year, if not the century—bacon drippings. And for good measure, bits of crispy-chewy, salty-sweet bacon are toss in for good measure. Chestnuts are an important crop in Portugal, where you can find the nut in just about everything from appetizers, to main courses, to desserts.

Confession (and please don’t go telling this story in your New Year’s Weight Watchers’ meetings): sometimes I whip up a batch, which takes all of 20 minutes or so, and eat the whole thing in front of the TV while watching “Dancing with the Stars.” If I want to feel classy and cultured, I use a cloth napkin and watch “Castle.”

Sautéed Chestnuts, Onions, and Bacon Recipe

  • Yield: Serves 6 to 8 as a side.

Castanhas Salteadas com Toucinho Entremeado

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound thick-sliced slab bacon or pancetta, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips
  • 1 pound pearl onions, scant 1 inch in diameter
  • 1 pound peeled, roasted chestnuts (vacuum-packed*, jarred without sugar*, or freshly roasted)
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, for garnish

*Vacuum-packed or jarred are preferred over freshly roasted.

Method

1 In a large skillet, cook the bacon over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the fat has rendered and the meaty bits start to crisp, about 12 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

2 Meanwhile, fill a bowl with ice and water and set aside. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Drop in the onions and blanch for 30 seconds. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and plop them into the ice water. To peel the onions, snip off the tip and remove the papery outer layers. Set aside the onions.

3 Raise the heat under the skillet to medium, plonk in the onions, and sauté in the bacon fat, stirring occasionally, until spotted with brown and cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the chestnuts, cooked bacon, and honey and toss to warm through, being careful not to break the nuts--they're fragile. Season with salt and plenty of pepper and then scoop into a decorate bowl. Sprinkle with the parsley.

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Chestnut Onion Bacon photo by Nuno Correia

16 Comments

  1. pam

    I wish I could find chestnuts in jars around here. I’ve looked all over, I guess maybe I need to search the net.

  2. Gaelle

    Growing up in France, we would always have chestnuts together with the Christmas Turkey. I love them… and so do my children (especially in the form of Chestnuts spread). I am just sad chestnuts (in jar) are so expensive around us. I guess, I’ll just have to use fresh ones! Thanks for the recipe. Definitively something I’ll like.

  3. Ben

    When I read your statement “it was one of the few Portuguese dishes I would eat,” I almost stopped reading, simply on principle. But I bravely soldiered on, driven by the gorgeous photo above. What a recipe. I think I know what I’m taking to Christmas dinner at the parents’ place this year.

    My family discovered (and fell in startled lust for) Portuguese cuisine while on vacation in New Bedford, about 5 years ago. When we returned home to Chicago, we were dismayed at our inability to find a single Portuguese restaurant. So it has been up to me to make it myself. I’ll definitely have to check out your book. And if you know of any Portuguese restaurants around Chicago, please please PLEASE let me know.

  4. Judi

    What a tasty dish!
    And David, I also share your love of DWTS and afterwards, Castle….
    you are the first person with whom I have admitted this little diversion.
    I may just have to try your dish when the next season starts up.
    Or, before!!

  5. David Leite

    Hi all, thanks for the kind comments. A few things:

    Pam, you can get chestnuts in jars and in vacuum-packed packages online. Amazon.com has them, as well as the individual growers.

    Gaelle, you can certainly use fresh chestnuts, but I find them just a little but too meaty tasting versus the jarred, which have a bit of sweetness and complement the saltiness of the bacon.

    Ben, I don’t know of a good Portuguese restaurant in Chicago, but I’m looking into it.

    Andre, Sim!

  6. arcey

    I’ve made a similar dish with Brussels sprouts added to the mix. Not sweet though, and with fresh chestnuts. But also a nice combination of tastes for a side veggie dish.

  7. Kalynskitchen

    This looks delicious. I’ve only eaten chestnuts once and didn’t know you could buy them in a jar.

    The New Portugese Table is a beautiful book. I haven’t cooked anything from it yet, but I’ve looked through it several times, drooling!

  8. marla

    What a sense of humor!! David is hilarious! I love reading this passionate foodie writer’s take on life. I can understand why he would want to keep these bacony yummy chestnuts all to himself! Great recipe, perfect for the holidays!

  9. Ken Lynch

    I have been making this dish for a few years now but I have a few additional ingredients. I also put in some rasins or dates and almonds. Great dish!

  10. joan

    Elise – As always, you come up with the best recipes. Everything I’ve made from your site has been a winner. Can’t wait to make this. Yup; what would we do without bacon…or my favorite…pancetta. And, since you know I LOVE your rustic onion tart…onions are also tops on my list. Definitely checking out the Portuguese Table Cookbook. I’m a New Yorker living in the trendy (translation: gritty) and wonderfully diverse Lower East Side. My main stay market – The Essex Street Market – has a large Hispanic clientele. I’ve always wondered what they do with salted cod and many unusual vegetables for sale. Now maybe I’ll know what to do with them, too! Many thanks for turning us onto David Leite. Happy Holidays. JT

  11. Anna Marie

    I made this last night for Christmas Eve dinner & it stole the show! I love the hint of sweetness the honey brings to the dish. Delicious!

  12. Charlene

    I found vacum packed chestnuts at Trader Joes and the Pasta Shop in Berkeley,CA. Hope that this helps. I am bringing this to our family dinner to complement roast Goose,Just snuck a taste,yummy!!

  13. Joan

    NY’ers looking for less expensive (vacuum-packed) roasted chestnuts – check out Chinatown. Definitely less expensive than Whole Foods.

  14. Lillias

    saw this and had to try it, christmas dinner was fabulous but this really stole the show! even the vegetarians (4 of the 11 people around the table) decided they could try the chestnuts! multiple thumbs up!

  15. David

    I made this because I could tell it would be delicious based on the ingrediants. A bit time intensive (I roasted fresh chestnuts and made a double recipe- peeling pearl onions gets tedious) but it was very much worth it. So savory!

  16. Stacey Cavanagh

    Chestnuts are the ultimate winter food for me!! And Heaven knows we need that with the miserably cold weather this year.

    A similar problem for me as for some previous commenters in that I can’t actually get vacuum packed ones here either – at least not in the several places I’ve looked!

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