Sunday, November 23, 2008

Roasted Chestnuts!

Yesterday, while shopping for the many small things for the Festival of Starchy Side Dishes (I'm in charge of pie and pudding and canberry and pickles), I came upon these little gems: Sweet Chestnuts! I vaguely remember eating them when I was small and living in the UK, but I couldn't for the life of me remember what they tasted like, nor could I recall having had them in anything but, like, one Godiva fall truffle since I came back oh these many and many a year ago. And, being well under ten the last time I had them, I certainly hadn't made them before. Still, they stayed in my head as something that I should be eating this time of year, and I sort of remembered reading something about a winter fair in Italy (probably in Extra Virgin or maybe it was France and A Year In Provence, but I think it was Italy), and it seemed like a fine harvesty thing to do. So when I saw these at both WinnDixie and Wal-Mart, I was all over them, despite the 6$ a pound price tag.

I started with the Wal-Mart ones to see if I knew what I was doing, and after a quick skitter around the internets, I took ten of them, made little Xs in the flat sides, and dropped them into the big skillet with a little water and a lid. Our lid doesn't really fit the skillet, so instead of shaking them up like JiffyPuff, I got out the old metal cooking spoon and kept them moving. None of them popped, so the lack of the lid was moot, and they were ready around the time as the tea I put on to boil at the same time and brewed while they finished off.

Once they were all black and the Xs had peeled back like the tops of pomegranites, I dumped them out into a clean towel and scrunched them all up with the heel of my hand to crack the shells real good before they could cool and seal themselves in again.

The biggest ones were the ones that cooked the best, coming out soft and meaty and sweet, while the smaller ones (some of which didn't even open up right, even though they were blacker then the rest, so I think it was the nuts and not me to blame), came out harder and denser, but generally still edible. The taste is pretty unique. At first, they taste almost like cooked meat of some sort-- I don't want to say 'like chicken', because it's not really like that, but I can see why they're put with chicken and turkey; the meatyness of them is complimentary to that sort of a flesh-flavor. Anyway, after that first bite, they taste sort of like grill-roased corn, sweet and tasty and nutty the way things that aren't nuts are nutty. And they remind me of cooked hazelnuts, with a similar texture and look. And they're best when they're steaming hot, which is the best sort of food for winter.

I have so many more of these. I'm going to but up all of them and eat them in small handfulls all winter, and I'm going to see if I can get a few of the fresher-looking WinnDixie ones to grow so I can add them to my baby orchard. Dutch Elm Blight be damned!

ps: This whole handling of chestnuts also reminded me of playing Conkers when I was in school, but the ones used for that are the horse chestnuts that can't be eaten, and I always thought that was a shame.

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