This small article was published on the December 2005 Newsletter of the Societa` Dante Alighieri – Comitato di Hong Kong on the occasion of the 2005 Grape Festival (Festa dell’Uva) in Hong Kong when for the first time the roasted chestnuts were offered.
THE CULTURE OF EATING: CHESTNUTS
“CALDARROSTE” <roasted chestnuts>……. It is quite normal to hear
these words shouted on Italian streets in autumn and winter and, surprisingly,
chestnuts are a very popular food also in
had been extremely common in all the Mediterranean area since thousands of
years ago. Although the Romans were mainly using their wood for the
construction of furniture and utensils,
giving the fruits to animals, during the Middle Age chestnuts became a very
common food for the poor peasants, thanks to their availability in large
quantity from the Alps to the Apennines and to, their highly nutritious
properties. Only to obtain "Marrons" -
light brownish, heart-shaped and with a particularly sweet pulp - it is
necessary to make grafts between trees. The most famous marrons
are from Piedmont and from
appreciation of gourmets for this autumn fruit and for its multiple
gastronomical utilizations is proved by many initiatives such as the recent
creation in San Zeno di Montagna
(Italy, near Verona) of a "Brotherhood for the enhancement of the
Monte Baldo's Chestnuts", one of the several
varieties for which the granting of the DOP certification (Protected Original
Denomination) has been requested. The DOP certification for traditional
gastronomical products has been recently introduced in
fact, can be used also for the preparation of desserts, main meat dishes and
even pasta. Moreover, chestnuts trees' flowers are needed by the bees for the
preparation of the highly appreciated "half-bitter honey" or
"chestnut tree's honey". The old traditional recipes of the peasants
were quite simple, because of the lack of other ingredients and therefore they
were just variations of "chestnuts with milk". Although the Middle
Age Lords were not particularly fond of chestnuts, due to their nature of
"food for the poor", they accepted them usually in the form of puree
to accompany the hunted animals' meat. In the XIX Century chestnuts were mainly
used as filling of turkeys or other birds cooked in the oven and, as a dessert,
with sugar, liqueur and fresh cream in what we call now "Monte Bianco" (
There are many different methods for cooking chestnuts. Like popcorn, fresh chestnuts have a closed shell with moisture trapped inside. When roasting, the moisture can forcefully pop the nut open. Always slit the shell to allow the steam pressure to escape. Otherwise the nut will burst with a small explosion. If they cool off too much after they are cooked, they can become harder to peel. If this happens, just put them back into the oven, or boiling water, to reheat. The following are some simple methods for cooking chestnuts at home:
Oven Roasted Chestnuts - Method 1 (Oven Roasted)
1. Preheat the oven to about 225 C.
2. With a sharp knife, make a slit through both the smooth outer shell and the textured inner skin. This will allow the steam pressure to escape as the nut heats up.
3. Place the nuts in a shallow pan.
4. Roast in the oven for approximately 15-25 minutes. You may wish to turn them over after 5-10 minutes for a more evenly roasted chestnut.
out of the oven and let cool slightly before peeling both shell and skin (they will
peel more easily when they are still warm).
Oven Roasted Chestnuts - Method 2 (Oven Broiled)
1. Turn on your oven's broiler.
2. Score the nuts as mentioned in method 1.
3. Place the scored nuts in a shallow pan.
4. Place the pan on the top rack of the oven.
5. Broil the nuts until the outer shell blackens slightly. Again, you may wish to turn them over after a few minutes for a more evenly roasted chestnut.
6. Broil for approximately 7-10 minutes more.
7. Take out of the oven and let cool slightly before peeling both the outer shell and the inner skin (they will peel more easily when they are still warm).
1. Place the nuts in a pot of boiling water.
2. Boil for approximately 30 minutes.
3. With a slotted spoon, transfer several of the nuts to a work surface.
4. Peel both the outer shell and the inner skin while they are still warm.
Note: Some cultures add sugar or salt to the water while boiling them to enhance the flavor.
Other Methods Of Cooking Chestnuts
Chestnuts roasting over an open fire in a wire basket or in a special perforated chestnut roaster pan, on the range in a large skillet over medium heat for 15 minutes, or in the microwave.
Nowadays、 food science has fully highlighted the nutritious properties of chestnuts which are very similar to those of beans; they are rich of potassium, calcium, vitamin B, sugar, proteins and they are poor of sugar. Just a handful of other foods can match the nutritional value of a chestnut. Unfortunately, very few are aware of this. As opposed to most other nuts, chestnuts have high water content and very little oil, thus making them virtually fat free. They are high in complex carbohydrates, contain high quality protein comparable to eggs, are gluten free, cholesterol free, and are very low in fat (1-2% while other nuts can be over 50% fat). Nutritionally, they are similar to brown rice and have been described as a grain that grows on a tree. Interestingly enough, they have as much ascorbic acid as an equal weight of lemons and are the only nuts approved by the Pritikin System. A part from people suffering of diabetes, stomach diseases and people who are overweight, everyone can enjoy chestnuts, from youngsters to older people.
Fresh chestnuts can be tasted roasted, boiled, steamed as a cream; the dried ones are usually used for the preparation of desserts. We can taste them almost all the year round (in Rome, at a corner of Piazza di Spagna <Spain Square> with Via Condotti, roasted chestnuts are sold even in summer) and, for the first time, this year 40 Kg. of original Italian chestnuts will be shipped and will be available - roasted - at the Italian Grape Festival. All over the world, autumn is considered the best season for gourmet delicacies and everyone is invited to taste the Italian chestnuts and other superb dishes on October 31, 2004 at 4pm sharp （please refer to the Italian Grape Festival leaflet for venue and booking details).