Chestnuts: still a treat beyond the holidays
By Sarah and Tony Nasello Forum News Service
If you’re like us, this holiday season was so jam-packed with activities that, while you might have sung about chestnuts roasting on an open fire, that’s about as close as you could get to this long-standing holiday treat.
Luckily, chestnuts are still available in local stores for the next couple of weeks, and we encourage you to explore this savory treat while you can.
Chestnuts are a winter nut with a fairly short season, typically available only in December and January. They come from the same family of trees as the oak and beech, and are unrelated to horse and water chestnuts.
Chestnuts have a unique, sweet flavor and are ideal for roasting as their raw flavor is often slightly chalky and bitter. When roasted, this nut becomes soft, starchy and creamy, similar in texture to a baked potato.
Tony grew up with roasted chestnuts as a holiday tradition, eating them in their natural state, but they can be enjoyed in a diversity of other ways: coarsely ground and incorporated into a breadcrumb coating for chicken or fish (chestnut-coated walleye would be amazing), as an ingredient in stuffing or, in this instance, pureed and used as the main component in Tony’s Roasted Chestnut Vinaigrette.
Prior to roasting, each chestnut must be scored with an “X” carved on the flat side of the nut, as they are high in water content and will otherwise dramatically explode, which is not our desired outcome (don’t ask how we know this).
You can use a special knife designed for this purpose, or use a sharp paring knife.
Chestnuts can be roasted in a special pan directly over an open fire, or on a sheet pan in a 425-degree oven. Once each chestnut has been scored, lay the nuts X-side up on the pan. Cook until the shells begin to open and curl back, about 8 to 10 minutes over an open flame, or 30 to 40 minutes in the oven.
Remove them from the heat and allow to rest until just cool enough to handle.
Peel the entire shell, including the inner skin, from the chestnut, discarding any nuts that are discolored or black. Once peeled, they can be enjoyed right away either on their own or in a recipe, or stored in the refrigerator for up to three days.
The starch content of this nut will create a smooth, creamy texture in Tony’s vinaigrette.
Citrus pairs wonderfully with the creaminess of chestnuts, and for this salad Tony has chosen mixed greens, fresh orange sections, caramelized shallots and shaved parmesan cheese for a delicious winter salad.
Winter Salad with Roasted Chestnut Vinaigrette Serves 4 to 6
Vinaigrette ingredients 1 lb. whole chestnuts, roasted and peeled
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. honey
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup vegetable or canola oil
Salad ingredients 1 pkg. mixed greens
3 oranges, sectioned
24 parmesan cheese shavings
6 caramelized shallots (see below)
Salt and pepper to taste
Directions Blend chestnuts in a food processor until finely ground. Add remaining ingredients, except oil, and mix until incorporated. With food processor running, add oil in a slow steady stream until emulsified.
Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Toss the vinaigrette with spring greens and top with roasted shallots, orange sections and shaved parmesan.
To store, cover and refrigerate up to one week.
To make caramelized shallots, slice each shallot into quarter-inch slices and sauté with 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil and 1 tsp. kosher salt over low-medium heat until shallots become soft and tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Tony’s tips • Once peeled, remove any nuts that are discolored or black inside.
• Use white wine, champagne or cider vinegar, but not red wine vinegar because it is too strong.
• If the vinaigrette is too thick, add water one Tbsp. at a time to thin out.
• Do not use olive oil for this recipe, as its strong flavor will dominate the vinaigrette.
• To make a breadcrumb coating for fish or chicken, coarsely grind roasted and peeled chestnuts in food processor, and mix with Panko breadcrumbs, fresh herbs, salt and pepper.
This column is written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple own Sarello’s restaurant in Moorhead, and live in Fargo with their 9-year-old son, Giovanni. Reach them at email@example.com. Arevious recipes can be found at http://thelostitalian.areavoices.com.
DID YOU KNOW? To make a breadcrumb coating for fish or chicken, coarsely grind roasted and peeled chestnuts in food processor, and mix with Panko breadcrumbs, fresh herbs, salt and pepper.