We are all familiar with the lyrics of the Christmas song  by Torme and Wells “Chestnuts roasting over an open fire.”   If you have visited NYC in the fall, you might have purchased a few roasted chestnuts from a street vendor.  Americans think of the chestnut as a holiday food but in Europe, chestnuts have been cultivated as a standard food for centuries.  Used in a variety of ways, chestnuts are peeled of their hard outer and soft brown inner shell.  They may be boiled, roasted, baked, puree or dehydrated then reconstituted or ground into flour for making breads.  Served as a snack with a glass of wine or a pint of beer, incorporated in savory dishes with meat of fowl or made into a fabulous stuffing.  They can be eaten as a vegetable;  chestnuts are wonderful combined with potatoes, cabbage, mushrooms, onions or carrots.   Then there are the desserts!  Chestnuts sweeten with honey or sugar syrup, ‘Monte Bianco di Castagne’, being one of the most popular.  Named after the highest peak in the Alps at the border between France and Italy, this dessert is claimed by both countries.

Basic Preparation for fresh chestnuts:

For Roasting:  After I have gathered a basket of fresh chestnuts from the woods near our house.  I wash and put them in a large pot of water.  Bring the water to a boil and cook the chestnuts in their shells for about fifteen minutes, then take them off the stove.  Using a slotted spoon I remove a few from the hot water and slice an X across the now soften shell.  It is possible to slice chestnuts without boiling them but it is hard work.  When all the nuts are sliced I spread them out on a pan or cookie sheet in a hot over (400F 225C) for 20 minutes, tossing or stirring occasionally.  After 20 minutes I test a few to see if the outer and inner shells peels off easily.  If not I roast them a little longer.

To Blanch:  Pierce the round end of each nut with an ice pick or the point of a small knife.  Bring water to a boil in a large pan and add the chestnuts.  Return to a boil and cook the nuts for 10 to 20 minutes, remove from the heat.  With a slotted spoon remove a few at a time.  Peel the outer shells and brown inner skins, taking care to leave the chestnuts whole.  Keep unpeeled chestnuts in hot water until peeling time or it will become difficult to remove the shell and the interior skin.

To Puree:  After blanching nuts, place the peeled chestnuts in a sauce pan with milk or stock, cook for about 30 minutes or until tender.  Drain. Strain through a food mill, sieve, potato ricer, colander or whirl in a food processor or blender.

To Dehydrate or Dry: Place peeled, blanched chestnuts on selves of electric dehydrator and dry until hard.

To Reconstitute Dry Chestnuts: Cover dried nuts with water.  Add enough water to cover nuts with one or two inches of water.  Soak overnight.  The next day simmer in about five inches of water until chestnuts are puffed up and tender.

 Chestnut and wild mushroom soup

 1 Medium onion, minced

1 garlic clove, pressed

40 gr. Butter ( 2 tablespoon)

250 gr. Wild mushrooms, chopped ( 1 cup)

1 tablespoon flour mixed with 1 teaspoon soft butter

250 gr. Blanched chestnuts, cut in half ( 1 cup)

250 gr. Potatoes cut into cubes ( 1 cup)

1 Litre beef broth ( 1 quart)

1 teaspoon parsley, chopped

1 teaspoon thyme

Salt and pepper

 Sautée onions in butter until lightly golden, add garlic and mushrooms. Cook in butter until the mushrooms are tender. Add flour to the mushrooms and mix well. Add remaining ingredients, cook on low hear for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Adjust salt and pepper. Makes 4 servings

Chestnut Purée

5 cups of peeled chestnuts

1 bouquet garni ( 1 bay leaf, 2 sprigs of parsley, 1 spring of sage tied in a cheese cloth)

1 cup chicken broth

3 tablespoons of butter

Salt and pepper

Place the peeled chestnuts in a heavy sauce pan.  Add chicken stock and bouquet garni.  Simmer over low heat uncovered for about an hour or until chestnuts are tender.  Drain, remove bouquet garni, press chestnuts through sieve, potato ricer or whirl in food processor.  Return to heat add butter, salt and pepper to taste.  Serve hot.

Chestnut Stuffing

1 cup of minced onion

1/4 cup butter

1/2 pound of pork sausage

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/2 cupped carrots

1 pound chestnuts (about 2 1/2 cups) cooked shelled and chopped

1/4 cup parsley

6 cups of stale-bread cubes

1 egg

1/2 cup of chicken stock

1 teaspoon sage

1/2 teaspoon ground thyme

Salt and pepper

Cook onion, celery, carrots in butter until onions are slightly golden.  Add sausage meat and cook for 10 minutes longer.  Add chicken stock, pour over stale-bread cubes.  Add remaining ingredients, mix well, salt and pepper to taste.  Use stuffing for chicken, turkey or pork.  Makes about 8 cups.

Monte Bianco di Castagne

1 1/2 pounds blanched chestnuts

 2 cups milk

2/3 cups sugar

3 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoon brandy or Cognac

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup heavy whipping cream

Chocolate shavings and confectioners’ sugar

Place blanched chestnut in a heavy sauce pan with milk, sugar and butter.  Simmer over low heat until very tender.  Stir often to prevent scorching.  Cook about 20 minutes.

Cool and puree the mixture in a food processor.  Add brandy or Cognac and vanilla.  Force the chestnut purée through a potato ricer or sieve so it will fall into shreds onto a plate.  Shape the shreds of chestnut purée into a cone-shaped mound.

Whip the cream until firm and spread it on the top third of the mound, pulling it to a point with a spatula or spoon. 

Sprinkle with chocolate shavings and dust very lightly with confectioners’ sugar. 

Keep the Monte Bianco in the refrigerator until serving.

Makes 8 to 10 servings