Monday, December 20, 2010

eat; chrissy special!: how to roast chestnuts

Castagna in Italian, pronounced 'kustania'

I grew up with chestnuts roasting every year, but it wasn't around Christmas. In Australia, (apologies to all the Australian readers out there who wont be able to do this at this time!) chestnuts are not in season in December but around June so the whole "roasting chestnuts over an open fire at Christmas" was yet another story I could only imagine, along with snow at Christmas!!!!. My mum always told us stories of her childhood in the South of Italy in Calabria, carrying a big heavy basket full of chestnuts for miles and miles on her head, in the cold and snow around this time of year, as part of her 'child labor' experience during the second world war. This year, I have the chance to roast chestnuts at Christmas (YAY!!!), even though there is no snow here in sunny California.

(Sorry guys but I had to do it!!!!)
I know I have introduced many of you back home to chestnuts and just recently, my friend Marg who met me in New York for my birthday, was introduced to the nut when I bought them from a street peddler. Last night, I roasted chestnuts with my housemates who both hadn't tried them either. Nat grew up in Canada so I find it really strange, with all that cold and snow, that she had never tried them before. It was a nice night of showing them something new and watching as they discovered a new flavour in their mouths and educating them on how to prepare the nut for roasting. It is always a great feeling introducing a food from my childhood I took for granted to someone who has never tasted or even heard of such a thing. 

Roasting chestnuts can be done in a variety of ways and you can even purchase a chestnut roasting pan to cook then over a flame on your stove top or roasting over a fire. My mum would cook them under the griller so this is how I will cook them in this post. You guys in the States, grilling is broiling so just replace the word.

photo by Natalie Baack
To start with, you are going to have to make an incision into the chestnut.  As you can see from the photo above, cut away a small section from the bottom. 

 This is how the chestnut should look after cutting away to reveal a little of the flesh. The reason why this is important is so you wont have exploding chestnuts when roasting them!

 Place them on a grilling tray that is lined with aluminum foil.

I did mention my electric toaster oven in my first recipe within this blog and that's what I'll be using for roasting the chestnuts. Here are the chestnuts as they are beginning to roast.  I put the toaster oven onto the high setting (about 220c 450f). After about 10 minutes, try turning them so they wont burn too much on the one side. They will be very hot so be careful! They will take about 20 mins or so to cook through. Check one at this point to see if they are cooked. It should be fleshy and fluffy on the inside yet a little crunchy on the outside.

Once done, wrap up the chestnuts into a tea towel for a few minutes. This will  help the peeling process. The way to shell the chestnuts is to cover it with a tea towel and then lightly bash it with the palm of your hand, just once to crack the shell. If cooked properly, the shell should fall away easily. Keep the rest covered while you are cracking and peeling, as the chestnuts become hard to peel once cool. If you get to a point where you can't eat anymore, go through and peel all that remains whilst hot. Place into an airtight container once cooled completely. They should be fine for a few days.

As Nat, Dolphina and I were eating away, I suggested champagne would be the perfect drink to accompany the chestnuts. Champagne and Chestnuts...YUM!!!!! I definitely suggest this!

Buon Appetito and Buon Natale!!!

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