Chestnuts! Not just something to sing about roasting over an open fire. Not just something to buy off a city street vendor! Not just the names of two body parts made into one word that creates an awkward image when you think about it. Go ahead. Think about it. Chestnuts.
Chestnuts are so much more. They are nutty and sweet and hearty and they taste like winter and they are excellent, excellent vehicles for butter. And you know what we always say here at Queer Martha? Never be afraid of butter.
Chestnuts are amazing when roasted, they are amazing pureed, they are amazing in mousse form, they are amazing when candied. They are just the perfect little carbohydrate bomb.
The first time I had chestnuts was for dinner when I lived in Nevoy, this little village in the middle of France. The family I lived with got their chestnuts from a tree in the neighbors' yard. We roasted the chestnuts, then they were put into a big bowl. We were each given a plate and a hunk of butter. Then we ripped the chestnuts out of their shells, slapped some butter on those little guys, and ate them up. At the end of the meal my fingers were sort of cut up from the shells fighting back. It just feels good when you have to work for your food, you know?
The moment that sealed my love for chestnuts was a few weeks later when I was leaving said family in Nevoy and I was feeling all sorts of sad. I was at a music festival in Orleans, and it was cold. I was cold and sad. My friend got me a bag of warm chestnuts and a cup of mulled wine. All of a sudden I was warm and happy. That is the power of chestnuts!
As a side note, that music festival was also the first time I had the opportunity to use porta-turkish toilets. My world turned upside down that night.
Ok, so maybe at this point you are saying, "Lizzie, I hear you. I want to be warm and happy and work for my food and have a good excuse to eat a lot of butter. But I don't have an open fire on which to roast chestnuts!"
And I am here to tell you that Nat King Cole is just psyching you out. I mean, if you have an open fire, you should be cooking everything on it, including chestnuts, because everything is better when it's cooked over a fire. If you don't have a fire, however, you can still enjoy chestnuts. Let me do it with you!
1. Buy chestnuts. You can get them at places like Wegmans! Because Wegmans is the greatest place on earth. You can also get them at the Italian Market in Philadephia for about half the price. Maybe you are only reading this post because you already have chestnuts and you just don't know what to do with them. In that case, skip step one.
2. Cut through the round side of the shells with a serrated knife. I like making wee X's, but you can also just do a straight line. The shells are not super thick, so you don't have to push too hard on the knife. However, you do want to get all the way through the shell and the skin that is under the shell, so don't make too shallow of a cut either. This is as hard as it gets, though, so if you make it past this part, you are good to go.
They are just so damn cute.
3. Turn your oven on. Shoot for 425. You can do this earlier in the recipe, but I feel like... why waste the energy? Cut the chestnuts, then turn on the oven.
4. While your oven is warming, put the chestnuts in a saucepan full of water. Turn on your stove! Once the water starts to simmer, remove the chestnuts with a slotted spoon and place on a baking sheet. I don't actually know what you do this part. To soften the nuts? To trap in moisture? Maybe it's just something to do while the oven warms.
5. Throw that baking sheet in the oven and wait 15 minutes! After 15 minutes, they should look like this:
6. You did it!!! Ok, I think this part is optional. If you choose, you can put the chestnuts in a bowl and drape a dishrag over it. The steam will soften the shells so they are easier to peel. It will also allow you to show off your adorable Food Lovers 12 Days of Christmas dish towel.
I don't really think this part is necessary, honestly. I think you are tough enough to peel the shells without and stinking steam. The other thing is that I like to crack the difficult shells open by squeezing the chestnuts, and steaming the shells made them too soft to do this. Very disappointing. Anyway.
7. PEEL YO CHESTNUTS!
8. This is the most important part of all. Add copious amounts of salted butter to your chestnut. Serve with mulled wine. NOM.
Rachel doesn't actually like chestnuts. This is my own personal tragedy to live with. I tell her that when we have kids someday, it will be a winter tradition for us to happily peel chestnuts and laugh as we delight in slapping slabs of butter on the little guys, and she will have make her own dinner. She does like pureed chestnuts, though. Every cloud, you know? The moral of the story is that there is a chestnut out there for everyone. You just have to know how to roast them first. Have fun!