Chestnut Lore with Tips and Recipes

December 9, 2014 Updated: March 12, 2018

Chestnuts roasting by the open fire… Haven’t we all longed to warm ourselves while watching these delicious nuts sizzle as they open? Some say a wish should be made with the first roasted chestnut eaten in the fall. Be careful not to eat the poisonous “horse chestnuts,” the ones found on tall ornamental trees lining many streets in Europe. Water chestnuts are different altogether and are usually found canned.

These days chestnuts are available fresh, usually imported from Italy, as well as vacuum-packed, ground into flour, and in tubes and cans with sugar added. The vacuum-packed ones must be soaked overnight in water and then simmered until tender for use in stuffing or other recipes, while the flour makes an excellent Florentine Pie, a sort of flat cake that I tasted in Florence to make sure the ones I make are traditional.

Before roasting chestnuts, either in a 220º C (425º F) oven or at the edge of an open fire, be sure to make a slit in each one so it doesn’t explode and splatter all over everything in sight.

Chestnuts in Dry White Wine

1 kg (1 1/2 to 2 lbs) chestnuts
113 g (4 oz) bacon, cubed
24 tiny onions
Butter
Dry white wine
Salt and pepper

Peel chestnuts but do not blanch. Brown the bacon and tiny onions in a little melted butter. Add chestnuts and cover with equal parts of wine and water. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a rapid boil and then simmer for 45 minutes. Serve with roast meat, game, or turkey.

Brazilian Chestnut Stuffing

1 kg (2 1/2 lbs) chestnuts
250 g (1/2 lb) dried prunes, pitted and chopped
750 ml (3 cups) beef broth
50 ml (4 tbsp) butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups manioc flour or farina
250 g (1/2 lb) seedless golden raisins
1 ml (1/4 tsp) each dried thyme and marjoram
Salt and pepper

Cut slits in chestnuts. Cook briskly for 5 minutes in a frying pan with the oil, shaking the pan constantly. Cool and peel the chestnuts, removing the shells and inner skin. Put in a saucepan with broth to cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, heat butter and sauté onion until soft. Add flour or farina and brown lightly. Add prunes and raisins and season. Break up the chestnuts. Mix into stuffing. Makes about 2 litres (8 cups), enough to stuff the body cavity of a 6 to 7 kg (12 to 14 lb) turkey.

Florentine Chestnut Pie

500 ml (2 cups) chestnut flour, sifted
Pinch of salt
40 ml (3 tbsp) pine nuts
Scant 500 ml (2 cups) water
40 ml (3 tbsp) olive oil plus extra oil for the pan
75 ml (1/3 cup) raisins
Fresh rosemary to sprinkle on top

Preheat oven to 220º C (425º F). Mix the chestnut flour, salt and 25 ml (2 tbsp) of the pine nuts. Add water slowly, stirring constantly so lumps do not form. The batter will be fluid. Mix in 25 ml (2 tbsp) of the olive oil. Add raisins and stir into batter. Oil a 23 cm (9-inch) round pie pan with olive oil. Pour in the batter and sprinkle with rosemary and the rest of the pine nuts and olive oil. Bake until the top is lightly browned and crinkly, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for at least 10 minutes. In Florence, this pie is served with unsweetened whipped cream.

Susan Hallett is an award-winning writer and editor who has written for The Beaver, The Globe & Mail, Wine Tidings, and Doctor’s Review, among others. She is currently the European editor of Taste & Travel International. Email: hallett_susan@hotmail.com