Chestnuts have been prized as a food since ancient times. Romans planted chestnuts as they conquered the Mediterranean, and varieties also occur in Asia and North America. They can be used as a stuffing, ground them into flour, or eaten on their own.
Chestnuts are low in fat and high in protein, but are perishable – refrigerate and use within three weeks. Choose chestnuts with glossy brown shells and start by cutting an X-shape into the shells to let the steam out while cooking to avoid some nasty explosions in your kitchen. You can cook them in a few different ways:
Fire-roasted: place the prepared chestnuts in a metal popcorn popping basket or long-handled chestnut roaster. Hold them close to the fire, shaking often. They’re done when the shells split at the cuts.
Baked in the oven: place the chestnuts on a baking pan and sprinkle them with water. Cover loosely and roast at 375F for around 15 minutes. Remove the pan from oven, sprinkle with more water and pop them back in the oven for another 15 minutes. Take the pan from oven and wrap chestnuts in a clean tea towel to steam.
Simmered: simmer chestnuts in a saucepan for 15 minutes. Remove a few at a time with a slotted spoon and peel while warm. If they’re difficult to peel, boil for another 5 to 10 minutes, and for pureed chestnuts, cook another 10 to 15 minutes until very soft.
Starchy, nutty and sweet – peel while they’re still warm, otherwise the inner membrane will be difficult to remove.