Once upon a time, quoth Thoreau, the chestnut forests in the eastern US were so thick that the squirrels could swing from Maine to Mississippi without touching the forest floor. Chestnuts are a staple in Europe, too, especially in Italy, and in many places a part of the traditional local cuisine. They’re experiencing a bit of a tourism-board-supported renaissance at the moment in South Tyrol – last autumn we spent a week taking part in a chestnut festival, devoured a chestnut tasting menu, and hiked the designated “chestnut trail”.
Chestnuts were once considered poor people’s food, and like many foods that fall into that category, they are actually incredibly high in nutrients and excellent at promoting survival in a cold winter. Chestnuts are low in fat (they are almost pure complex starch) and high in B vitamins, potassium and calcium – I will spare you the full lecture, but these chestnut enthusiasts and these are happy to tell you more than you ever wanted to know.
Chestnuts are a bit labor-instensive (all that peeling!), but kitchen time and burnt fingertips aside, they are versatile and delicious. If it’s been a while since you bought hot roasted chestnuts from a sidewalk stand at Christmastime, let me remind you: they’re sweet and nutty, but with a surprisingly dry consistency (owing to the lack of fat, see above). They make fantastic, creamy soup, and last year at Christmas we made a delicious chestnut-apple sauce (two ingredients: apples & chestnuts; cook like you’re making applesauce). Plus I’ve just discovered thanks to “vegetarians in paradise” that you can make chestnut milk (!) and/or chestnut-cranberry nog! Yum!
All of this chestnut madness leads me to….
Deconstructed Chestnut-stuffed Hokkaido Pumpkins
….and by deconstructed, I actually just mean that after a long afternoon strolling in the autumn sunlight, we were hungry and no longer in the mood to follow up on my ambitious plans to fill hokkaido pumpkins with wild-rice-&-chestnut stuffing and roast them at their long leisure. We threw laborious dinner preparation ideas to the wind and hacked the pumpkin to bits with a machete (hiiii-ya!), tossed the chestnuts on a baking pan, and made a quick stovetop stuffing with leftover wild rice (+onion, celery, carrot, zucchini, and a great deal of thyme & parsley). As you can see, the chestnuts just landed piping hot in a bowl on the table where we burned our fingers and made a mess peeling them over dinner. Simple, undignified, unimpressive, not remotely photogenic, un-blog-worthy… so. incredibly. delicious.
p.s. I am LOVING the autumn time change. At 7 am the sun was already streaming through our apartment windows. In fact, I am going to stop typing now and go for a run in that cold, gorgeous morning light. I guess there won’t be too many morning jogs left this year…