Welcome to our “Jolt of Joy” newsletter. Last week, Gingerbreadlz shared some delicious Christmas cookie recipes and a life-size gingerbread house tour. We hope you enJOYed some holiday cookies, whether you baked them yourself or not. This week, Chesnutlz is being featured in memory of my favorite seasonal treat, Italian chestnuts. So, let’s savor the season with Chestnutlz!
You’ve probably heard or sung the opening line of “The Christmas Song”: “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” But there’s a good chance you’ve never cooked a chestnut in an oven, let alone on an open fire. It’s during this time of year that chestnuts are at their peak and they make a great addition — particularly a great ending — to any meal. Chestnuts were a part of every Thanksgiving and Christmas during my childhood. The sweet, nutty aroma of roasting chestnuts brings back so many happy memories and time spent with family.
My grandpa would buy many big bags of castagne (Italian for chestnuts) since he knew they were my Dad’s and my favorite. Then he would cut crosses on the sides and roast them in the oven. After a huge day of eating a three-course meal, we would have chestnuts with tangerines, pomegranates, assorted nuts, Amaretto, and Italian pastries for the fourth course.
I just roasted some chestnuts yesterday and they were so sweet, buttery, toasty, and nutty. I drew Chestnutlz to honor our family tradition. Continue reading to learn about my best tips for roasting chestnuts, other ways to use them, and to view photos of my sweet treat…
When I was growing up, we would eat chestnuts imported from Italy. We found that these chestnuts had the sweetest flavor. Italy is among the world’s largest producers of chestnuts, and these generally are the ones that are sold at your local markets from October to January.
In the autumn, you can visit chestnut stalls and stands in piazzas and on street corners throughout Italy, where vendors slow-roast them and sell paper cones full of the roasted delicacies. I have also had roasted chestnuts from street vendors in Boston and New York City.
Ways to Use Chestnuts
Roasting chestnuts is one of the best ways to enJOY them. However chestnuts can be used in lots of different ways: milled into flour for making bread, cakes, pastas or polenta; candied or pureed and sweetened for desserts or as spreads; boiled as part of the stuffing for turkey or goose, and as a substitute for potatoes in stews, just to name a few.
As I have mentioned before, roasting chestnuts was a tradition in our Italian family. One sweet memory that I remember well was having a sip of Amaretto, an almond-flavored liqueur, that my grandpa and my Dad relished having with the chestnuts for dessert. I can still smell the aroma of roasted chestnuts and Amaretto. My Dad also enJOYed soaking his in a glass of Barolo, imbuing the chestnuts with the flavors in the wine!
After my grandpa passed away, my Dad was assigned the task of making the cuts in the chestnuts. Chestnuts are surrounded by a tough husk which traps steam as they cook. For roasting, the outer shell needs to be scored to allow the steam to escape and to prevent them from exploding. My grandpa always cut an “X” in the flat side of the chestnut, but years later, my Dad and I discovered that making a slit across the rounded side worked just as well.
My Dad bought a special chestnut knife that he used to make the slits. When my parents would visit me for the holidays, my Dad would always use his special knife to prepare the chestnuts and loved doing so. I have that knife now and it brings back so many wonderful memories of my Dad. I just used it to cut the slits in my chestnuts. You can view a photo here:
I also have many happy memories of preparing chestnuts with my Mom and grandmother. We would boil them and prepare a savory chestnut dressing/stuffing for Thanksgiving. We also used fresh chestnut flour that our relatives from Italy sent us to make my grandmother’s special Genovese dish, gnocchi al pesto.
Now, before we explore some tips for roasting them, why not listen to “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole? Here’s a version to watch and hear:
My Tips for Roasting Chestnuts
The simplest way to enjoy fresh chestnuts is roasted, whether in the oven, over a fire, or on the wood stove. Bitter when raw, roasted chestnuts have a delicate and sweet flavor with a soft texture similar to a sweet potato. My preference is to roast them in the oven.
- Be picky when you are buying fresh chestnuts. Their shells should be shiny and hard, with a vibrant brown color. Look for chestnuts that are heavy for their size, and don’t rattle when you shake them; a shriveled or blistered shell indicates a moldy chestnut. Keep them in a loosely sealed bag in the refrigerator until you are ready to use them.
- Lay each chestnut flat on your cutting board, with the rounded surface facing up. With a serrated knife or chestnut knife, make a lengthwise slit down the entire middle surface, on the long side, through the shell. Make sure you hold down the chestnut firmly on the cutting board (be careful not to cut yourself as the outer shell is very slippery).
- Spread the chestnuts out in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, cut side up. There is no need to grease the pan first.
- Roast in a pre-heated, 375-degree oven for 25-30 minutes, on the bottom shelf, shaking the pan a few times while roasting. The cooking time can vary based on the size of your chestnuts.
- You will notice that the shell splits open as they roast. The only way to know if they are cooked through is by eating one. They are ready to eat when the nut meat inside is fork-tender, but still firm.
- Shell while still warm, as soon as you can touch them without burning your fingers (ouch!), when they’re easiest to peel. Peel away both the brown outer shell and the paper-like, bitter inner membrane. The cooler they get, the more difficult they are to peel as the membrane begins to stick to the flesh of the nut.
- Eat right away and enjoy. Peel a tangerine to go along with them. Why not sip some Amaretto, too!
- The leftover chestnuts can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Here’s some roasted chestnut humor:
Here’s your joy-full activity for the week
Be like Chestnutlz and savor the season! Try roasting some Italian chestnuts!
Chestnutlz and I would love to hear about whether you tried any roasted chestnuts. Did you like them? Please leave your comments and joy-full responses below.
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