Other than singing about them every holiday season, I only became truly familiar with chestnuts for the first time a few years ago while studying in Milan, Italy. During the winter months you can’t walk the city center without being met with the smoky smell of “castagne al forno” roasting on site. In season from September through February and immortalized by Nat King Cole, chestnuts are synonymous with the holiday season and a flavorful addition to cold-weather dishes.
Before roasting chestnuts, it is important to make an incision through each shell to expose the flesh. This is to ensure that the chestnuts don’t explode. Here are two popular scoring methods:
- Make an X by cutting just through the shell
- Make one long slit through the shell
Place chestnuts in a shallow pan and roast at 350° for about 30 minutes. Begin peeling once your chestnuts are just cool enough to handle. If desired, squeeze chestnuts in a kitchen towel to loosen the shells.
My sister and I roasted chestnuts last week for this stuffing recipe, and she was a peeling prodigy. I, on the other hand, spent 5 minutes chipping away at each nut before finally pouring myself some wine and letting her finish the job. Her method is to pinch the two ends of the slit together and slowly pry open the shell like a clam. If you love the taste, but lack natural dexterity (me) or just don’t have the time, jarred pre-roasted chestnuts are sold year-round.