I am Italian therefore it goes without saying that chestnuts were a staple at Christmas time! We munched on the roasted nuts way after the meal was done. I will always remember regrouping around the dinner table after the dishes were done and one of my uncles breaking out the Bingo game. That’s when the fruit and nuts were served, along with sliced fresh fennel and roasted chestnuts! And as a youngster, I didn’t realize the importance of this after-dinner ritual. Everything was nutritionally good!
So let’s look at the chestnut. Not to be confused with the nut produced on the (ornamental) Horse Chestnut tree, which is inedible and poisonous, the edible ones are from the Castanea genus. Four main species are cultivated for their nuts, grown mainly in North America, Europe, China and Japan with peak season in December. This explains why they are so abundant at Christmas time!
They are unlike any other nut in that they have a high water content, are low in calories and fat and contain a considerable amount of Vitamin C (ChestnutsOnLine.com, 1999-2016).
They are rich in folates, are an excellent source of minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous and zinc and, like their true nut cousins, are also a good source of mono-unsaturated fats like oleic acid and palmitoleic acids, which help lower total and LDL cholesterol levels and increase HDL level in the blood. AND they are gluten free (Rudrappa, 2009-16).
For the most part, we enjoyed them roasted right out of the oven (see recipe) but at Christmas, my family made these wonderful little deep fried chestnut-cocoa filled popovers, dusted with icing sugar! I seem to remember them tasting of Anisette as well 😉 Anyhow, these were prepared using boiled chestnuts. I must find the recipe as a lot of childhood memories are evoked indulging in these!
When choosing chestnuts, look for large, fresh nuts with weight to them and a glossy shell. If they have been sitting in a bin for a few days at the grocery store, chances are they will be drying out and feel very light. Don’t waste your money on these.. they will cook hard and have very little flavour.
Keeping in mind a couple of other things, roasting chestnuts is really easy and very rewarding!
Preheat oven to 425 degrees
Carefully slit and X in the shell on the domed side with knife or a special chestnut gadget like the one pictured here. This is done so they don’t explode in the oven (because of their high moisture content)
( don’t recall when or how I acquired this but I do know it is made in Italy.)
Spread them out on a cookie sheet and roast for 15-20 minutes.
Remove from the oven, wrap them in a dish towel, crush them a little and leave them covered for about 5-10 minutes. The steam produced when you do this allows for easier peeling. Then remove them one at a time, crush the nut to completely loosen the shell and peel the shell and fuzzy skin off. Enjoy warm or keep them in a container for the next day. Trust me when I tell you that you can’t eat just one or two!
Roasted, boiled or even raw, chestnuts are delicious. Tuscans bake with chestnut flour and I have also seen recipes for dishes like chestnut soup, dips, purees and poultry stuffing! Like any good ingredient, the possibilities can be endless! Enjoy!
ChestnutsOnLine.com. (1999-2016). Retrieved from Allen Creek Farm: http://chestnutsonline.com/
Edible Chestnuts vs Horse Chestnuts. (na). Retrieved from Exploring the World of Trees…a tree species blog: http://tree-species.blogspot.ca/2009/03/edible-chestnuts-vs-horse-chestnuts.html