Okay, I know it’s the wrong time of year for that, but you have to admit that you were all thinking it too. I have been unconsciously humming these words over and over in my head for the last few days. I am still going through withdrawals from northern hemisphere weather here and I am not used to seeing colored leaves in april. Cut me some slack.
I am doing a post series on chestnuts this week because I am surrounded by these beautiful, fascinating little nuts. Some friends of ours recently gave us a big bag of them from their property. I wasn’t quite sure what they were at first, but I had a hunch and after a little research I found out that my hunch was correct. They were chestnuts. I was already familiar with what they looked like and where they come from because we have a chestnut tree right next to our house.
All summer I have been watching these bright little green balls change, grow, and occasionally fall from this tree without knowing what they were. I usually just refered to them as “the little green land urchins” or “spiky acorns of death”. The picture above is what they look like when they are green. Unfortunately, I did not take a picture of them when they were green, but I found this picture on flickr when I searched for “Chilean Chestnut”.
These are from our backyard and there are lots of them. Sadly, they are not edible because this chestnut tree is a male tree and only the female trees produce the edible nuts. I know of some trees nearby that have edible chestnuts and I often see people stopped on the side of the road to collect some. In my search for what these were and how to use them, I read that chestnuts grow almost everywhere else in the world except for in South America. Obviously, this is not entirely true or I wouldn’t be doing this series of posts. I later found a site that had some of the more accurate information that I was looking for. Apparently, Chestnuts were brought into to Chile by European settlers in the early 1900s and have grown well in this country since. Much like the berries that grow here, there is a lot of irony in the fact that these are so common here. If I still lived in the USA or almost anywhere else in the world I would be paying a fortune for them, unless I had a chestnut tree in my yard. They are so intriguing. When the pods start to turn brown, they fall to the ground and burst open. They can be prepared in many ways and they are a highly prized ingredient in many parts of the world. They can be added to soups, stews, and stuffing or dried and made into flour for pastries or as a thickener for soup. A popular way of serving them here is to boil them and puree them with potatoes. I think one of the easiest and most well-known uses is to roast them and eat them with salt or cinnamon (especially during the holidays).
I have tried both methods of cooking and I prefer roasting. The texture when boiled is softer and wetter, while roasting gives them more of a bite and more flavor. They can also be roasted over an open fire.
However they are prepared, they are very unique nuts. They have a sweet nutty flavor and when cooked, the texture is similar to a baked potato, go figure. You can buy chestnuts canned, frozen, or fresh. Most larger grocery stores will have fresh chestnuts in the produce department. In the fall and early winter they can be found at your local farmers markets.
How To Roast Them:
Equipment you will need:
Fresh chestnuts still in shells
First you have to “score” them. Basically, you are just cutting x’s through the shell on the flat side of the nuts. My picture above shows how I did them and I recommend cutting much larger x’s than mine and make sure to get through the shell. You’ll than me later. (my nails and fingers are still sore.) Cutting them insures that they won’t explode in your oven from pressure build-up inside and it makes it way easier to remove the shells. Place on a baking sheet and pre heat oven to 350 degrees F (180 C). Bake them for about 30 minutes until the shells start to peel away from the nuts. Remove from oven and peel as soon as you can handle them. It is much easier to peel when warm. If they start to cool before you have finished removing the shells, then return to oven for a few more minutes until hot
I plan on trying these in all kinds of different recipes. How can I not when I have a very gourmet ingredient highly available for free?