03/12/2013

Sweet Chestnuts Italian-style (Castanea sativa)





If you ask my daughter what her favourite food is, without a moments hesitation, she will tell you that it is chestnuts. It has been her answer for as long as I can remember. Since she was a small thing and her answer made everyone smile, as it was unexpected. Although,  perhaps it's not such an unusual answer for Italian kids, from this region at least. Eating roasted chestnuts in the autumn is very popular and is often even part of nursery school.  At least it was when my kids were at nusery, 7-10 years ago before the crisis set in. I hope it  still continues..... 
Every year  the  nursery school would organise a "castagnata" a chance for the educators, children and their families to get together and eat  roasted chestnuts. The fathers and grandfathers  spent their time outside organising the chestnut roasting. The ladies  served the chestnuts in cones of brown paper.
Italian school isn't obligatory until kids turn 6, it's 4/5 in the UK. The State does however provide "la Scuola Materna"(age 3-6)  where parents can choose to send their children or not. Most  kids have  very fond memories of these schools where they wear a "grembiule"(apron) over their  clothes and do lots of play/discovery/singing/motory activity/art/nature study/theatre and thoroughly enjoy themselves  with  dedicated educators.

photo from wikipedia
There are also lots of "fieras" and "sagras" where the hero is the chestnut and you can easily buy chestnuts at the market or even at supermarkets, although they are seen as a special treat as they are quite expensive, some years more than others depending on the yield. 

 

 You can also buy them already roasted by vendors who appear on street corners in the autumn.
The best  and largest chestnuts (castagne)  are known as "marroni". 

There is a strange and frequent saying in Italian often accompanied by a rude gesture,"che due marroni!",  which refers to the male anatomy, "what two chestnuts!" which can be roughly translated "what a pain in the a***!"



 Wild sweet chestnut trees  do grow in the alpines close to here , but as many  have an owner (official or unofficial) my preferred way to obtain them is to "make a day of it" and pick them myself, but pay for the privilege, preferably with family and friends.  There are  cultivated "castagneti" which are open to the public, where you can pick your own from the ground and pay by weight.  Thick gloves are a must. They usually cost about half the price than in the shops or at the markets. 



How to cook Chestnuts 

Before any method of cooking  they need to be cut widthways from side to side (some say the fattest, others say the flattest side). Some people cut crosses, I don't think there is any need, it's just extra work. You can use a short, sharp knife but it's easier to use a special tool (snips). I use ones similar to these, which you can find  @amazon.
The best way is to roast them on an open fire (caldarroste) or burning embers,  shaking and turning them for even cooking. You  need a cast iron/steel pan with holes in it. Cook for  about 10 minutes and place in a brown paper bag for 10 minutes before serving. No bags? Wrap them in a clean tea towel.





If you haven't got a fire,   you can roast them on  a gas hob,  if you have one.  We use a metal ring over a burner to rest the pan (I think it was from an old cake stand). This method is not for everyone as unfortunately it does have it's drawbacks. It's very messy and it does leave a strong charred chestnut smell. Every time one of my family members leaves me a mess to clean up I say never again,  but  the next time always give in. Who could  say no to these? (10-15 mins)


In the oven
Cook in a hot oven (200-220°C) for 20-30 minutes turning them a few times

In the microwave
Soak in cold water for 15 minutes before cooking.
Cook at 750 for 4/5 minutes

Boiled
Cover them with cold water and add some herbs (bay leaves/rosemary/wild fennel)
Bring to the boil and boil for 40-60 minutes.
Leave them in the water and peel one by one (otherwise peeling becomes difficult)

Chestnuts are really good friends with red wine. They are often served with "vino novello", very young red wine,  the Italian equivalent of Beaujolais Nouveau.

further reading @


shared @
wildcrafting-wednesday-special-christmas-edition
waste-not-want-not-wednesday
lavenderandlovage.com/december-cooking-with-herbs-challenge-and-christmas-spices

6 comments:

  1. Wow, that's everything one would like to know about the chestnut! That's quite the story—they look yummy. I never ate them, only pretended to eat the conkers when I was a child. I collected so many. I sometimes think about that gigantic horse chestnut tree from my old home town—I was the only person who loved it I think. Some places I've been or lived you can just take any nuts or fruit from public property, such as a park. It seems in Italy they have caught on to people's desire to have some of these things.

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  2. I am lucky to have an old horse chestnut tree in my garden. I love it's shade in the summer and watching it through the seasons :-) You can take the nuts and fruit here too, but there are rules and regulations about quantities and days, must write a post about it. Thanks for visiting and especially for commenting.

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  3. i have fond memories of eating roasted chestnuts every winter as a child..my parents would make a special trip to the grower to buy them..in athens i remember buying them from the street sellers who cooked them on braziers..but the boiled chestnuts like those that my husband and i used to cook in the north of greece are a favourite together with the marrons glace that were made locally..

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    1. Lovely memories!! Nothing better, an open fire, roast chestnuts and a glass of red wine :-)

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  4. I ADORE roast chestnuts and yours look lovely! I also live the idea of serving them with a glass of "vino novello", very young red wine. LOVELY cooking with herbs entry thanks! Karen

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