Back in biblical days, wily Jacob knew the value of adding chestnut to foods. After he put chestnut twigs in the water he fed to his father-in-law Laban’s strongest cattle, they gave birth to spotted calves. Good news for Jacob: he had just cut a deal with Laban—all the spotted cattle in the flock now belonged to him. (The tale lives on in the beautiful spotted heirloom beans known as Jacob’s Cattle.)
Today, chestnuts continue to lend their charms to many Jewish dishes. As they do for the French and the Japanese, sweet chestnuts serve as New Year’s food for Jews from Transylvania, who eat them when reciting the Sheheheyonu, a prayer for new fruits at Rosh Hashanah. At Sukkot, Hungarian Jews cook them in a special tsimmes, and I have seen several variations for a Passover haroset recipe from Padua, Italy, all calling for chestnuts.
Here the chestnuts break up, imparting a nutty sweetness to the brisket. To build additional layers of flavor, I first stud the meat with garlic, then bathe it in a pomegranate molasses and balsamic vinegar marinade.