Most cooks buy canned chestnuts because they are convenient to use and easy to find. Our neighbors have three gorgeous chestnut trees on their property. The nuts are in season now and are falling to the ground in droves. Thank you Maureen and Chris for sharing your bounty.
The tree itself is deciduous and a member of the beech family; native to temperate climates. On the branches, a chestnut grows in a sharp, spiky, green burr but underneath that burr lays a smooth, rich sable-colored nut. Horse chestnuts and water chestnuts are not in the same family. Horse chestnuts are actually poisonous to humans and the water chestnut is an aquatic herbaceous plant. The origin of the name chestnut is ambiguous. Furthermore, the Native Americans were eating chestnuts long before the Europeans brought their species to our great nation. Squirrels like them too!
I have recipes that promise to deliver a toasty flavor perhaps to your holiday table but first we should start with the basic preparation of chestnuts. They’re as hard as a rock in raw form. Roasting is easy, yet confidence building ~ there is a small challenge to roasting them properly without scorching the skin but well worth the outcome and the aroma is divine. There are gadgets to cook them in the oven with but they are a waste of money (the photo of mine below is now used for garlic storage but the knife works well to score the nut).
Fire-roasting is the way to go; whether using a gas or charcoal grill. A charcoal grill is my method of preference as you will achieve a woodsy note to the nut’s creamy, sweet flavor and it is the embers from the coals that give off that heavenly aroma. After I collect the chestnuts from the ground, I rinse off any dirt and cut an ‘X’ on the rounded side prior to grilling. The slit will allow steam to be released so that the nut does not explode. Place them directly on the grill rack or in a vegetable grilling basket over medium-high heat. When the skin slightly chars it will easily peel away to expose the meat ~ cooking time will be about 10-15 minutes. Some variations in cooking include a foil packet of nuts in the fireplace or in the oven at 425 degrees for 30-40 minutes on a sheet pan.
You can freeze cooked chestnuts for later use, for instance in your Thanksgiving stuffing/dressing (which is pretty darn good by the way). I also like to make pasta sauce with chestnuts as they pair so well with pancetta and also with cheese and chocolate! Here are three chestnut recipes for a ‘themed’ meal.
Spice Honey Chestnuts
This recipe is not my creation. I have no idea where or when I clipped the recipe from a magazine; however, it is a nice appetizer to have around to stave off your guests’ appetite while you prepare the Thanksgiving feast.
- 15 fresh chestnuts, cooked
- ½ c. sugar
- ½ c. water
- One 3-inch strip orange peel
- ½ t. powdered mustard
- ½ t. Dijon mustard
- 1 T. honey
- Scrapings from ½ vanilla bean
- Pinch of sea salt
- Cook chestnuts by desired method and peel.
- Combine sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
- Once the water bubbles at the edges, stir, then add chestnuts, orange peel and mustards.
- Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes. Discard orange peel.
- Transfer the chestnuts and ¼ cup of the liquid to a food processor; pulse to coarsely chop.
- Transfer the mixture to a decorative bowl; add honey, bean scrapings and the bean itself along with the salt. Stir to incorporate and cool to room temperature.
- Discard the vanilla bean and serve with baguette slices and a platter of Italian meats and cheese. This lovely concoction could also be served over a brick of cream cheese.
For an elegant guest worthy pasta dish, serve my roasted chestnut sauce with your favorite thicker pasta cut like tagliatelle. I prefer pappardelle but you may have to make your own as it is difficult to find dried; well, not if you live in a big city. I’ve had a variation of this dish around Christmastime in Italy when we attended a friend’s wedding. Of course no pasta is the same outside of Italy!
Ali’s Roasted Chestnut Sauce with Pancetta
- 1 T. olive oil
- 4 oz. pancetta, chopped
- 1 small onion, chopped fine
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 T. fresh sage, chopped fine
- 20-25 fresh chestnuts, roasted, peeled and chopped
- 8-12 ounces fresh pappardelle
- 1 c. Parmesan cheese, grated
- 2 T. butter
- Salt/pepper to taste
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook until it begins to crisp.
- Add the onion and cook until it begins to brown.
- Add the garlic and 1 T. sage, stirring for one minute.
- Stir in the chestnuts and remove from heat.
- Cook pasta according to directions in large pot of salted water.
- Drain; reserving 1 cup of the cooking water.
- Add the drained pasta and pancetta mixture to the skillet.
- Add the reserved water, butter, cheese and salt and pepper; cook, tossing constantly until pasta is well coated and heated through.
- Divide among 4 individual pasta bowls; sprinkle with remaining sage.
Finish off this meal with my fun, easy dessert Ali’s Chocolate Chestnut Cream Bites.
- 1-1/2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 3 T. heavy cream
- 1 T. Godiva chocolate liqueur
- ¾ c. chestnuts, roasted and peeled
- 2 oz. cream cheese
- 3 T. superfine sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 16 mini phyllo shells
- Melt the chocolate and cream in the microwave for 20 seconds; stir and repeat until chocolate melts. Stir in liqueur.
- In a food processor, combine chestnuts, cream cheese, sugar and salt; process until smooth.
- Add the chocolate mixture; process until combined.
- Pipe mixture evenly into warm, toasted phyllo shells. Serve immediately.
That’s it in a nutshell! Bon appétit!