Delicious And Healthy Food
Chestnuts are delicious and healthy food. They are high in carbohydrates (45%) and very low in fat (2-3%), while other nuts are over 50% in fat. Chestnuts are like a “grain that grows on a tree” and are similar nutritionally to wheat and brown rice. Chestnuts contain 6-8% high-quality protein and no cholesterol. Low fat, high carbohydrate diets are recommended by the American Heart and Cancer Associations.
Chestnuts must be cooked before eating, uncooked they are like raw potatoes. The traditional way is to roast or boil them. To roast chestnuts, cut an “X” through the shell of the nut. This enables the shells to open up as the nuts cook, otherwise, they would explode. Put them on a tray in a 350-degree oven for 15-20 minutes until they can be pierced easily with a fork.
An easy way to peel them quickly for use in cooking is to cut them in half and boil or steam them for 8-10 minutes. The half-kernels are easily removed from the shells while hot. Boil them for less time (6-7 minutes) if you’re planning to add them to another dish.
Around the world, there are countless recipes that are made with chestnuts. From a simple stew slowly simmered over an open fire to the new haute cuisine, they can be used in a wide variety of dishes. In different forms, chestnuts were eaten at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and were also eaten as a snack or as dessert.
In many cities in Europe and throughout the United States, street vendors serve hot-roasted chestnuts (‘calderroste‘ in Italian) during the holiday season. They are cooked over an open charcoal fire in vented chestnut roasting pans and served hot in small paper bags, which make an excellent hand warmer on a cold winter day. Many cities in Italy have chestnut festivals, where stores feature many types of foods made with chestnuts, from candied marron glace to cakes, pastries, candies, and ice cream.
Every country has its own traditional dishes that are made with chestnuts. In France, chestnut soup is made in a variety of different manners, usually ground into puree and cooked with chicken stock, milk, or other liquids, while crepes filled with chestnut cream are a standard item in the village creperies. In the Valais region of Switzerland, ‘brisolee’ is an ancient dish of chestnuts roasted with cheese. The popular Armenian dish ‘Dolma’ has chestnuts mixed with rice, lamb, and spices and wrapped in grape or cabbage leaves.
Chestnut stuffing with turkey is a holiday tradition in both America and in Europe. Chestnuts compliment the flavor of meats, game, and poultry and add a wonderful sweet richness to soups, stews, and dishes with vegetables. Chestnuts are also eaten as a stuffing or cooked with pheasant, duck, goose, and chicken.
Chestnut-fed pork and beef are considered a delicacy because the chestnuts impart a sweet flavor to the meat. Pigs are fed on chestnuts to produce such specialties as the Serrano hams in Italy and ‘jamón ibérico’ in Spain.
Chestnuts were ground and cooked in milk and honey or sugar as a breakfast food, and this was also fried to make a sweet fritter. Chestnuts were also added to porridges.
Chestnut flour, made from grinding chestnuts that were dried in the smoke over a chestnut wood fire, was used in pasta, cakes, bread, and pastries. Native Americans made a mixture of ground corn and ground chestnuts, which they wrapped in corn husks and boiled to make simple bread. It makes a rich addition to necci, a popular chestnut flour crepe. Chestnut flour gnocchi is filled with cheese or chestnut puree. Castagnaccio is a famous Tuscan cake made with chestnut flour, olive oil, pine nuts, rosemary, and raisins. Chestnut polenta, where ground chestnuts were substituted for ground corn, was one of the foods that the people of the mountains depended upon during winter and hard times. It is said that during World War II, the entire population of Corsica survived off chestnut flour.
Chestnut flour adds a sweet flavor to cakes, pastries, bread, pancakes, and pasta. If dried fruit is added to the chestnut bread it is known as ‘Lavish’. It can be used as a 100% substitute for flour, which makes it cakes very dense and gluten-free. It can also be mixed with other flours in a 25:75 or 50:50 (chestnut flour: wheat flour) ratio to add the sweet smoky chestnut flavor.
Dried chestnut flakes are an excellent addition to muesli, granola, or other breakfast cereals that have been served for centuries.
Ground into a puree, chestnuts can be eaten as a savory food when prepared with spices and meats. This can be incorporated as a stuffing or a sauce on top of meats and vegetables.
When cooked with different sauces, chestnuts absorb the flavors and create an excellent addition to many dishes. Particularly flavorful when used as a garnish, chestnuts are cooked in balsamic, bergamot, honey, and rum
Chestnut puree can be sweetened, blended with butter, sugar, vanilla, or chocolate, and incorporated into desserts such as tortes and ice cream, or the puree can be used as icing on cakes.
The flavor of chocolate matches particularly well with chestnut. Chestnuts are ground and blended with chocolate to create chocolate chestnut torte, one of our favorite holiday dishes at our farm.
The traditional European dessert, “Mont Blanc” is made with ground chestnuts sweetened with honey and topped with sweet whipped cream, and served in a cone shape resembling the famous French Alps peak.
Marron glace is candied chestnut and was invented in the 18th century in France. These incredibly delicious treats are often given as gifts during the holidays and at New Year with wishes of wealth and happiness.
Chestnut honey is considered an aphrodisiac in Italy and has a unique, intense flavor. In Croatia, chestnut honey is the base for making chestnut brandy.
Chestnut wine is a delicious dessert wine with rich chocolate and cherry flavors. Chestnuts have become a popular addition in making beer, giving the brew a sweet nutty flavor. Breweries in the U.S. are discovering chestnut beer. Chestnut liqueur is popular in Italy as a digestif after-dinner drink.