In keeping with the simplistic nature of recent recipes, (it has gotten a little busy around here) roasted chestnuts are not only wonderfully easy, but bring us even closer to the uncomplicated pleasures of seasonal eating. The sweet meat of a chestnut makes me think of all the snow doused woodland creatures and their assumed delight upon finding such a treat scattered beneath a sprawling tree; quite a generous find.
Chestnuts (once also referred to as the "bread tree") are part of the same family as the oak and beech. The nut itself is so starchy and sweet, it has been widely used dried and milled into flour. Excellent for stuffing fowl and poultry, chestnuts are also commonly used to thicken soups, stews and sauces or featured in a special dessert. The flour can be made into cakes, pastas, breads and fritters, highlighting the nut's delicate flavor.
A Swiss man often sets up a stand outside my local grocery store peddling freshly roasted chestnuts this time of year. The smell and warmth of his stall almost always wins me over. A couple of dollars and he will fill a paper cone with the steaming nuggets, a perfect treat for a cold winter day. As I peel them open, still warm, and pop them one by one into my mouth, I believe I may be doing something fairly timeless as well as universal.
Chestnut trees are found across the globe from Asia to Europe, North America to New Zealand. The nuts are used differently from region to region, yet I believe eating them roasted and straight out of the hull is a good as it gets.
*A bag of ripe chestnuts (press the outer hull between your fingers. If there seems to be a bit of space between hull and meat, the starches have begun to convert into sugars, making them prime for roasting).
Preheat oven to 425.
Wash chestnuts. Towel dry.
Score a shallow x into one side of each chestnut to allow steam to escape while roasting. Arrange chestnuts x side up on baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before peeling away skin and enjoying by the fire.