Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Range
Before the early 1900's, chestnut trees were one of the major native forest trees on the East Coast of the United States. But due to a fungus introduced from the imported Asian chestnut, the entire forest of our native trees was reduced to mere shrubs.
According to the American Phytopathological Society, American agriculturalists have been working for decades on a breeding program to restore the native chestnut trees in the West. Future generations may indeed see the magestic chestnut back in the forests once again. Although the new tree is a hybridization of the original American chestnut, it is one that is resistant to the fatal fungus from the East (no relation to the Wicked Witch of the West).
Unlike other nuts, chestnuts have a rather high carbohydrate content and are relatively low in fat, making them more like a grain than a nut. The carbohydrates give them their nostalgically sweet taste that can be employed in both sweet and savory dishes. When mashed and added to potatoes, their sweet taste gives a rich, rounded flavor to this traditional holiday dish.
The most common way to prepare chestnuts is to roast them, but they can just as easily be boiled. My preferred way is roasted. I like the toasted flavor, but most importantly, the dry heat hardens the shell and skin, making them easier and cleaner to open.
Pick fresh chestnuts that have smooth brown shells that are not too dry or brittle. They should be stored in the refrigerator and used within a week.
The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia
American Phytopathological Society
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Deeply score an 'x' onto one side of the chestnuts and place them, slit side up, onto a sheetpan. Roast for 35 minutes, until they have popped open and browned a bit.
Line a large bowl with a damp kitchen towel. Place the chestnuts into the bowl, cover them with the towel and let them steam about 15 minutes.
Peel off the shell - the shell and the fuzzy skin should pull off fairly easily.
Roasted Chestnut Croutons
Yield: 1 cup
Heighten holiday flavors and add a festive garnish with these sweet and spicy croutons. Try them on top of creamed winter squash soup, green bean casserole (a healthier alternative to canned fried onions), vegetable dishes, meats and stews. Leave out the savory spices and parmesan cheese, and it becomes a rich and rewarding topping for holiday pies, tarts or ice cream.
8 roasted chestnuts (recipe above)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon garlic granules or powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons maple syrup
Chop the chestnuts into course 1/4-inch pieces.
Heat the oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Mix in the chestnuts and spices, cooking 30-60 seconds to bring up the flavors in the spices.
Add the parmesan cheese. Stir constantly, cooking for another minute, until the cheese has softened. Stir in the maple syrup and cook another minute.
Transfer the chestnuts to a plate and let them cool slightly before serving. They can be stored at room temperature for up to three days. Store in the refrigerator for a week or longer.
Yield: 6 servings
This is a flavorful and rich puree that can be extended with mashed potatoes or mashed sweet potatoes (my favorite). The puree can be dolloped over meat or tempeh, and is delectible on top of holiday pies and tarts. The chestnuts can either be roasted or boiled.
1 pound chestnuts
Milk (any kind) cream or water
Salt and pepper, to taste
ghee or butter (optional)
Roast the chestnuts (see above recipe) or simmer them in water to cover for 35-40 minutes, until softened. Cool to room temperature, and peel off the shells and skins.
Place the chestnuts in a food processor with about 1/4 cup of your choice of liquid, and salt and pepper. Blend until smooth and creamy, adding more liquid for texture and salt and pepper to bring up the flavors, as desired.
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