Two weeks ago, I picked up some chestnuts at the farmers’ market. October marks the beginning of the season (which usually runs through December or January) so if you want fresh ones, now is the time to look for them. I tried them about 4 years ago and learned that while they take a lot of preparation time, they are worth the effort.
There are several different methods of preparing (just Google and you will find several) but the one that worked for me last time was to roast them in the oven. I poked holes in each shell for ventilation, and put them on a baking sheet. Set the oven for 425 degrees, and roast for about 25 minutes. Remove the HOT chestnuts from the baking sheet, and put them in a cotton dishtowel to cool for a few minutes. After they cool to the touch, wrap the towel into a ball with the chestnuts inside, and begin to crack the shells. When you open the towel, you can crack the shells more to extract the nut, but it should be easier to contain all the mess.
When you buy the chestnuts, it is inevitable that there will be some nuts that just don’t pass the test. You want them to be pliable; about the consistency of a dried apricot or a prune. Any harder and you could damage your teeth. There will be slight discolorations, but if the consistency is right, they nut should be perfectly edible. They make a great snack! However, if you have a recipe planned, you might want to save some for that…
I made a casserole-style baked dish from Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz – it paired the chestnuts with caramelized onion, butternut squash, and white beans. Kris said it was amazingly delicious, and I really liked it too. Only things that I did differently from the recipe (posted here) was add 1 tsp of Herbs de Provence and 1 tsp of nutritional yeast to the crumb topping. I also used gluten-free breadcrumbs which I prefer to the “real” thing. This is not a recipe for the faint hearted. With the chestnut roasting time, it is definitely a “slow food” – it took me over 2 hours from start to finish – but worth the time. Added bonus that your kitchen will smell of roasted chestnuts afterward!