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What’s the Skinny on Chestnuts?

What’s the Skinny on Chestnuts?

Recipe courtesy of Marcia Selden Catering, Stamford, CT

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire… hard not to hum along, I know.  But what’s the skinny on chestnuts? And what about actually roasting them on an open fire?

Chef Robin Selden helped me out here with lots of interesting facts and useful tips in addition to the easy and fragrant recipe for Truffled Chestnut Risotto, below.

Let’s start with that oft referred to “roasting on an open fire”:

How: To roast in a fire, take an aluminum pie plate and punch rows of holes. Make cuts in chestnuts or puncture them to release steam and place on a grill over white hot coals. If you have a chestnut roaster for the fireplace, all the better. Chestnuts work well in savory dishes as well as sweet ones. Mashed or whole braised chestnuts are good partners with sweet potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, Brussel sprouts, and cabbage.

When: Harvested from October through March, December is the prime month for fresh chestnuts. If you are unable to find them fresh, most markets sell them canned, pureed, or preserved in sugar or syrup (marrons glacés).

whole chestnuts

How: Choose fresh nuts that are smooth and glossy, free of blemishes. They should feel heavy for their size. Avoid any that are shriveled, cracked, or rattle in their shell. Shake the shell. If you hear movement, you know they are drying out. Fresh chestnuts will dry out easily, so keep them in a cool, dry place, and use within 1 week. Fresh nuts in the shell can be placed in a perforated plastic bag and stored in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator up to 1 month, depending on the freshness factor when you purchase them. Fresh chestnuts can be frozen whole in their shells up to 4 months.

When: Shelled and cooked nuts should be covered, refrigerated, and used within three to four days.

How: Cooked chestnuts, either whole, chopped, or pureed, may be frozen in an airtight container and held up to 9 months.

Wow: Although referred to as nuts, the meat inside is soft and starchy, more akin to grains rather than crunchy like traditional nuts.

jarred chestnuts

Wow: It is the only nut primarily treated as a vegetable due to its starch content.

Wow: Chestnuts are gluten free, and chestnut meal is a wonderful substitute for flour in most recipes.

How: Our favorite way to cook chestnuts is to roast them. Begin by slicing either a large X along the flat side before roasting. Place on a baking sheet in a 400-degree F. oven for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Peel and enjoy.

For more info on truffle oil needed for this recipe, click here.

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