Whether you plan to roast chestnuts, soak them overnight for your imbuljuta, or simply open a vacuum-sealed packet, Christmas cannot go by without using this wonderful ingredient.

Chestnuts are so versatile and make good savoury and sweet dishes. They go off quickly, though, even if you are using the vacuum-packed ones that are now easily available in most supermarkets and stores, you will need to use them immediately once the packet is opened as they will turn mouldy fast.

When you cut through the outer and inner skin of fresh chestnuts, they also need to be used immediately.

Chestnut flour is a great alternative to wheat flour, especially for those who follow a gluten-free diet. It makes wonderful cakes and bakes and I hope that it will be more readily available here.

How to use fresh chestnuts. Rinse the chestnuts, then soak preferably overnight. Drain the water and allow them to dry. Use a sharp knife to cut through the skin on the flat side of each chestnut, then place in a saucepan and immerse in cold water.

Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Alternatively, place on an ovenproof tray and roast in the oven for 15 minutes. Allow to cool. Then peel, taking care to remove both the outer shell as well as the inner brown membrane.

Tagliatelle with pumpkin and chestnuts

200g pumpkin, cooked and cubed
200g pancetta
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, very finely chopped or minced
2 tsps very finely chopped fresh sage leaves
100g chestnuts, cooked or bought ready prepared
500g tagliatelle
4 tsps freshly grated Parmiggiano Reggiano
150ml single cream
Freshly chopped parsley
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Drizzle of olive oil

This is an amazing pasta dish and the recipe originates from the Piemonte region in Italy.

Sautée the pancetta, onion and garlic in a drizzle of olive oil. Add the pumpkin, parsley, chestnut and sage. Cook through for about 20 minutes until the pumpkin softens. Add the cream, stir and cook through. If the sauce is too thick, simply add some hot water. Add the freshly grated Parmiggiano.

Quick mont blanc trifle

500g chestnut purée
4 tbsps honey
2 tbsps liquor of your choice
200ml Mascarpone
200ml ricotta
1 pod vanilla
5 spoons Stevia
12 meringue nests

Grated white chocolate to serve and some extra to top up each layer (optional)

Whiz the chestnut purée, honey and liqueur in a foodprocessor until smooth. Cover and chill. Whisk the ricotta, vanilla and mascarpone. Add the Stevia. Chill.

Break up the meringue pieces and layer thebottom of a trifle dish. Top with a layer of chestnut puree, then a layer of the creamy ricotta mix. Add a layer of grated white chocolate if you fancy it.

Repeat with a layer of meringue pieces, a layer of chestnut puree and a layer of creamy ricotta mix and decorate the top with grated white chocolate.

Chill for a minimum of 2 hours and serve.

Chestnut and roquefort stuffing

3 tbsps olive oil
3 onions, finely chopped, cooked
8 slices bacon, cooked and chopped
350g vacuum packed chestnuts
1 Maltese sausage, cooked and finely chopped
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp butter, melted
1/4 tsp fresh sage
100g bread crumbs
100g oats
250g Roquefort cheese, cut into large pieces

For garnish: Chestnuts, cranberries and pistachios and also keep some cheese and sausage aside.
400g chestnuts (peeled and cooked or pre-packed)
Sugar or stevia (optional and to taste)
2 cups water
A vanilla pod

Place the breadcrumbs and oats in a large bowl and mix. Add the onions, fresh sage, bacon, half the sausage and cheese. Add the olive oil and butter to the eggs and mix in. Fold in the liquid mix into the breadcrumb mix. If necessary, add water to bring it to a dropping consistence. Finally, add the chunks of cheese and fold in gently.

Tip the mixture into a 23cm spring-form cake tin prepared with baking spray. Garnish the top with cranberries, the rest of the cheese, Maltese sausage pieces and chestnuts.

Bake at 170℃ for 35 minutes. Remove from the oven. Allow to rest for 10 minutes and serve immediately. Just before serving drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle some toasted pistachios.

How to make chestnut purée at home

Place the chestnuts, sugar (or stevia) into a large mixing bow. Add a cup of water and use a handblender to purée. Add more water until it is a creamy consistency. Refrigerate.

Chestnut and pear cake

3 cups self-raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
A few drops of good vanilla extract or the seeds of half a vanilla pod
Grated zest of half an orange
1 cup oats
A pinch of nutmeg
125ml plain yoghurt
200g cooked or prepacked chestnuts
4 eggs
Juice of one orange
4 pears, 2 peeled and chopped, 3 unpeeled and finely sliced

To top the cake, pre-baking:
2 pears, unpeeled and cut into thin slices
100g chestnuts, cooked or pre-packed

After baking: 1 tbsp warm honey

Sift the flour, bicarbonate, nutmeg and vanilla. Add the orange zest and the oats.

In a separate bowl mix the eggs, yoghurt, orange juice and 2 pears, golden raisins and 100g chestnuts. Use a hand-blender to make a purée.

Fold in the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients. Do not overmix. Decorate the top with pears and chestnuts.

Pour the batter into a greased cake dish (23cm) and bake for 35 minutes. Brush with warm honey as soon as you take out of the oven. Allow to cool before serving.

Castagnaccio

5 tbsps olive oil
60g chopped figs
400g chestnut flour
400 ml water
2 eggs
60g caster sugar or the equivalent in stevia
A pinch of sea salt
Zest of an orange
50g toasted pine nuts
A pinch of fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped

This Tuscan cake is dense and heavy and will not rise like a traditional cake. Although it is rich, it is not too sweet and I am using dried figs instead of sultanas. I found it also great to serve with a cheeseboard.

Pre-heat the oven to 150℃. Use a loose-bottomed tart dish of around 20cm and brush with olive oil.

Sieve the flour into a bowl and add the sugar or stevia, salt, citrus zest, half the figs and gradually mix in 400ml of water mixed with the olive oil and eggs. Stir until you have a smooth batter. Pour the mixture into the tart dish, scatter over the pine nuts, the rest of the figs and sprinkle with rosemary. Bake for 45 minutes. Allow to cool before serving.

Maltese Imbuljuta

400g pre-packed chestnuts
The equivalent of 175g of sugar in stevia (check the labelling on your jar for conversions)
50g drinking chocolate
50g dark chocolate chopped in large pieces
Grated rind of 1 orange
Grated rind of 1 tangerine
1/4 tsp mixed spice
Pinch of ground cloves
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Seeds from 1/4 vanilla pod
1 cinnamon stick

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas in Malta without this seasonal chestnut and chocolate drink and I base my recipe on one of Anton Dougall’s family favourites. This is a quick version as I am using pre-packed chestnuts.

Place all the ingredients and half the chestnuts in a large pot. Add 1 litre of water and cook over moderate heat; stir until it starts to boil.

Reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Taste and add more sweetener if desired. Add the remainder of the chestnuts and heat through. If necessary add more boiling water. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Reheat before serving.

You can watch Lea during Lifestyle&Co every afternoon on TVM2 and follow her blog on www.goodfoodeveryday.wordpress.com.