“SÃO MARTINHO” (St Martin’s day) is a celebration day in Portugal on the 11th of November. The legend says that on a rainy day a Roman knight, who was extremely kind, while travelling with his horse saw an old man who was cold, hungry and barely dressed. He promptly cut his own cape in half and gave it to the man, his gesture made the rain stop and the most beautiful rays of sun appeared. There is a link with this story to the fact that in early November, back in Portugal we sometimes see the appearance of a late Summer, as if the sun is presenting us with the last of its rays before the cold December arrives. And it is indeed hot. Foodwise on this day, people tend to roast the seasonal chestnuts with anise and drink the youngest of the year’s wines, the “agua-pé”, which is a light bodied wine with low alcohol content. This tastes like a strong grape juice, delicious and still potent if drunk in large quantities. I haven’t been in Portugal during this date for at least 12 years, although I can perfectly remember how my grandmother roasted her chestnuts, with rock salt and some herbs, in a gorgeous terracotta pot with holes, which she would place on top of scarlet and fierce coals.
Nowadays, as a Londoner, November is the month of holidays – the time when I rest and re-evaluate the year which has almost ended. Far away, possibly on a white sandy beach on the other side of the planet. And because this year is no exception, I shall be doing that for the next fortnight. I give you this week a delicious cake made of chestnuts and ground almonds which is perfect for an afternoon tea, when is cold outside yet sunny. Speak in two weeks and happy cooking!
Chestnut and almond cake
100 gr of ground almonds
100 gr of ground chestnuts
1 tbsp of soft unsalted butter
125 gr of sugar
Pre-heat the oven at 190 ºC.
Cut all the chestnuts in half, place them in a pan with water and boil them for 15-20 minutes. When they are soft, remove them from the heat, drain the water and peel the skins off. Place them without their skins into a food processor and blitz till they are finely ground. Set aside.
Whisk the eggs with the butter and sugar till you get a fluffy white paste. Add the ground almonds and the ground chestnuts and mix well. Butter a loaf tin or a round cake tin with butter and line it with parchment paper. Place the cake batter inside the tin and bake in the oven for 30 minutes, till it is golden. Pierce the cake centre with a skewer or tooth pick which should come out dry when the cake is ready.