By Kathy Hunt
Growing up in a blustery steel town on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, I had more than my fair share of days with Jack Frost nipping at my nose. But chestnuts roasting on an open fire? I just assumed that these were fanciful treats dreamed up by Nat King Cole, along with Mel Tormé and Bob Wells, the writers of "The Christmas Song."
A winter trip to Paris dispelled that notion. No matter where I turned, I spied men bundled in coats and scarves cooking shiny, plum-sized, aromatic nuts over open fires. Roasting sweet, earthy chestnuts, I learned, happened far more in Europe than in it did my hometown. You can roast them to. You just need a few tips for finding, storing, and preparing these holiday treats.
When selecting fresh chestnuts, look for large, glossy shells. If you're allowed, open a few to see if the nuts look plump and meaty inside. Skip those that have green mold or hard, dark spots.
Using a sharp paring knife, score the flat side of each with an "X." This helps the nuts to open when roasting and makes them easier to peel. It also stops them from exploding as they cook.
If roasting the chestnuts, preheat your oven to 400 F and place the scored nuts on a shallow baking pan. Depending on whether you want to peel or to cook them completely, roast them for between 15 and 40 minutes, shaking the pan periodically so that they cook evenly.
If boiling to remove the shells, bring a stockpot filled with lightly salted water to a boil and drop in the nuts. Boil them for about five minutes before removing the pan from the heat. Scooping out a few nuts at a time, peel off the shells and papery skins.
As roasted or boiled nuts are quite hot, be prepared with don heat resistant gloves to peel them. The warmer the chestnuts are, the easier it is to remove the shells and skins.
If you don't want to work with them right away, place the shelled nuts in a covered container in the refrigerator. They will keep for up to one week that way. Unshelled nuts should be stored in a cool, dry place.
Roasted Garlic, Chestnuts and Brussels Sprouts
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup roasted chestnuts, roughly chopped
2 pounds fresh or frozen Brussels sprouts, halved from top to bottom
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 425 F.
- Place the garlic, chestnuts, Brussels sprouts, olive oil, salt and pepper in a large baking dish. Toss the ingredients together, spread them in a single layer and bake until tender, about 25 minutes. Serve immediately.
Kathy Hunt is a syndicated food writer whose work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and VegNews, among other publications. She currently is working on her first cookbook. You can follow Kathy's culinary adventures online @Kitchenkat and at kitchenkat.com.
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