When I see chestnuts in South Florida supermarkets from October through late December, it makes me think of the enticing roasted chestnuts sold from vendors’ carts on the streets of New York. If you, too, are captivated by the allure of chestnuts roasting, here’s how to prepare them at home.
Look for chestnuts with unwrinkled shells and a glossy brown surface — no mold or worm holes. They should be firm to the touch and heavy in the hand with no space between the shell and the meat of the nut inside. Chestnuts are technically a fruit and should be refrigerated after purchase in perforated plastic bags to keep them moist. Uncooked, they keep for 3-4 weeks. Cooked chestnuts should be eaten within a day or two but can be stored in the freezer for several months.
Before cooking, use a sharp paring knife to make a deep X into the rounded side of the nuts. This will prevent the chestnuts from exploding while in the oven. Place the chestnuts on a perforated chestnut pan — yes, there is such a pan, available at gourmet stores — or a rimmed baking pan and roast in a 350-degree oven for about 35 minutes, until the skins begin to peel away.
Peeling fresh chestnuts is time-consuming but worth the effort, especially around the holidays. Peel off the thin, bitter inner skin as well as shell while the chestnuts are hot. Keep nuts warm, wrapped in a kitchen towel, while you work. If they cool too much their shells will become brittle and difficult to remove.
Chestnuts are low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates. They are sold in several forms, from whole to ground (as flour), and they can be used in just about every course of a meal — literally from soup to nuts. Roast them, use them in soups or as an accompaniment to vegetable dishes, puree them or add them to stuffing.
If you can’t find fresh chestnuts, I recommend vacuum-packed or jarred chestnuts. Look for chestnut pieces — they are perfect for most uses and less expensive than whole chestnuts. Stay away from canned chestnuts, as they take on a metallic taste and are not firm, although creme de marrons, a canned puree, is excellent for desserts.
Beatrix’s Butternut Squash and Chestnut Soup
Makes 6 servings
1 butternut squash (about 3 pounds), peeled, seeded and cut into small cubes
½ pound chestnuts, freshly roasted (or jarred or vacuum packed)
3 slender or 1½ larger leeks, white parts only, split lengthwise, washed and cut into 1-inch-long pieces
3 cups whole milk, or as needed
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
For optional garnish:
1 tart apple, peeled, cored, and cut into dice
About ⅓ cup chopped toasted hazelnuts or walnuts
About ½ cup creme fraiche or heavy cream
Toss the squash and chestnuts into a large Dutch oven or soup pot. Add the leeks, milk and 3 cups water, salt generously and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook 25-35 minutes or until the squash and chestnuts are soft enough to mash when pressed lightly with the back of spoon. Working in batches, use a blender, food processor or immersion blender to puree the soup. If necessary, add more milk or water to thin the consistency. Add salt to taste and season with pepper and nutmeg. Spoon apple and nuts into soup bowls, ladle in soup and garnish with cream.
Source: Adapted from “Around My French Table” by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40).
Per serving (without garnish): 260 calories (15 percent from fat), 4.7g fat, (2.4g saturated fat, 1.2g monounsaturated), 12g cholesterol, 6.9g protein, 51.2g carbohydrates, 4.8g fiber, 65mg sodium.