bowl of fresh chestnuts

Fall means chestnuts to me – and all the great memories that come with it. In Italy, as Christmas approaches, chestnuts can be bought on the street, grilled over hot coals, wrapped in paper to eat right away.

Nothing is more enjoyable than a bunch of hot roasted chestnuts to cheer up your cold hands and spirit, while strolling on a chilly afternoon, leisurely window shopping in the city center.castagnearrosto150

A century ago, the versatile chestnut was known in Italy as il pane dei poveri — “bread of the poor.”  In fact, their carbohydrate content is comparable to that of wheat and rice. Chestnuts contain very little fat and are gluten- and cholesterol-free. They are full of fiber, vitamins C, B1, B2, B3, and packed with minerals such as potassium, iron, magnesium and calcium. Fresh chestnuts have about 200 kcal per 100 grams of edible nut.

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Nowadays, even in Italy, chestnuts are almost a gourmet treat, but in my family we do cook them every year. My mom still uses them as an ingredient for cooking game birds (duck or pheasant), in stuffing or as a side dish. I make sure to continue the tradition – and I prepare them every single fall.

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Here in Oregon, I am lucky enough to find these goodies in stores, and the first batch is always reserved to make classic “caldarroste” or roasted chestnuts I  so crave.

 

Traditionally, in Italy caldarroste are cooked with a special perforated iron skillet over charcoal in the fireplace.padella castagne padellabuchi

They can also be done on the stove, by sautéing in the same kind of skillet, using a griddle underneath the pan to protect it from the direct flame. Without that pan, the easier way to roast chestnuts is to use the oven.

Xchest300 First, using a sharp knife, cut an X in the tip of the nut – it will help to remove the shell, once the chestnut is cooked. Try to cut just the shell. Sometimes it’s difficult to gauge the pressure and you will almost halve the nut. Not a big deal, as they can still be roasted and enjoyed.
chestroast300 Place the chestnuts on a baking sheet, on the upper level of the oven and broil at 450°F for about 10 minutes, until the skins have seared and raised where the X cut has been made. Watch them carefully since your oven can behave differently than mine. Pop them out of the shell still hot (be careful!) and…                                                              Buon Appetito!

You can also cook them using your outside barbecue and a griddle, moving the chestnuts while they cook so that they sear evenly.

A great way to enjoy fresh chestnuts is to peel them and use as side to roasted meats, in place of potatoes.
Both the exterior leather-like shell and the interior soft, velvety peel need to be removed, and this task takes a little bit of patience.

boilchest300 Cut the chestnuts as shown above. Using a small saucepan, boil just 2-3 chestnuts at a time for 3 minutes.
cleanchest300 Drain with a spoon and peel while still hot (or the peel will… stick back on!). Use a kitchen towel to avoid burning. If the inner peel does not come off easily, toss the chestnuts back into the boiling water for an additional minute, and it will remove very easily.

You can then use peeled chestnuts in your favorite recipes. In the photos below, as an example,  Roasted Pork with Chestnuts and Artichokes. The recipe is on my app, as a variation of Roasted Pork with Potatoes.

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Buon appetito!

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