Biking to work in the Netherlands (o yes, we like to leave the car at home) can be a challenge during fall. If you’re not careful you might get hit by a tasty surprise falling from the trees. Chestnuts. I love to search for them in the woods and roast them to release all their nuttiness and earthiness. Everything about them picks me up and wraps me in a blanket of fall comfort. So go out and gather some of these sweet beauties. Let the wild ones be…
Tame or wild (sweet or horse)*
Sweet chestnuts are usually paired in three, covered with a spiky jacket. They can be recognized by their pointy shape. The bolster of the sweet chestnut has much more thin spikes than the non-edible(!) horse chestnut. Try not to break open the bolster by hand but choose the ones that already have an open shell.
*In Dutch we don’t refer to ‘sweet’ or ‘horse’ chestnuts but to ‘tame’ (tam) or ‘wild’ (wilde) chestnuts.
In shops, you can buy chestnuts that are dried, canned or cooked and vacuum packed. The latter is a good alternative to the fresh ones. You can fry them briefly in a pan or bake them in the oven, to release the flavor. But nothing compares to the smell of home roasted chestnuts. So put on your raincoat and hit the road!
On a rainy day
Feel like staying in today? During fall season you can buy fresh chestnuts on markets or in delicacy shops. French chestnuts are often best quality. Make sure that the chestnuts have some weight to them, and that the skin gives in a bit when you press it. Chestnuts are not supposed to move in their skin when you shake them, which is a sign that they are dried out.
Tip: If you want to check if the sweet chestnuts that you collected or bought are fresh? Put them in a bowl of water. If they start floating they are dried out. When they sink to the bottom they are good to go.
Roasted sweet chestnuts recipe
To roast your harvest, cut into the skin twice, creating a cross-shape, so that the steam can escape (you want to roast them, not explode them ;). The skin is tough and slippery, so watch out for your fingers! Cut right through the skin, about halfway into the chestnut. Let the chestnuts soak for a half hour in cold water.
Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 200 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the chestnuts out. Place in the oven for about 20 to 30 minutes, until the chestnuts are soft and the skin opens up.
Remove the chestnuts from the oven and let them rest for about 5 minutes under a tea towel. Get them from under the towel one by one so the others stay warm while you peel. Peeling chestnuts is easiest when they are still hot, but obviously not too hot to handle. Remove the tough outer shell as well as the soft inner shell.
Serve your warm home roasted chestnuts right away. Serve them natural, as a savory snack with a little butter, salt and pepper or go for a sweet version with honey.
Old fashioned Dutch recipes
Cooked chestnuts are also delicious, but peeling them is very time consuming. You can add them to Brussel sprouts with bits of bacon. Before cooking, you have to slice into the skin of the chestnuts. Put them in a saucepan with cold water and cook them 15 to 20 minutes until tender. If you want to make a chestnut puree, you can cook them for 30 minutes. Remove the chestnuts from the fire and rinse with cold water. For a savory puree you can cook the chestnuts with some stock. Are you a sweet tooth? Boil the chestnuts in milk with a vanilla pod.
Sweet chestnuts – winning combinations
Chestnuts and pumpkin just love each other. Add them to an autumn style risotto with pecorino and freshly ground black pepper. Or add them to your favorite brownie recipe.