Roasting Chestnuts in a Wood Fired OvenDec 05, 2018Posted by Chef LeaPrint
History & Harvest Season
Chestnut trees once covered huge swaths of East Coast forests until a fungal blight arrived from Asia, killing off about 3.5 billion trees in the first half of the 20th century. But lucky me, two of the very few surviving productive trees are right behind my house in the Hudson Valley. So the last couple of weeks have been a race between me and the critters that live around us. Michael and I have been out at sunrise, during rainstorms and windy days filling our pockets, baskets, and bags with shiny new chestnuts, much to the barking consternation of Red, the squirrel who calls the tree his own. Red takes the chestnuts and hides them for the winter. The deer, on the other hand, eat them right on the spot. Michael and I have had to work fast!
Growing up Italian in New Jersey, oven roasted chestnuts were a winter delicacy in my family. Either we bought them from vendors in New York City’s Little Italy, or my mother would buy them from our Italian greengrocer and roast them in a brown paper bag in our kitchen’s oven. I always loved to eat them but now that I’ve tasted just-picked chestnuts roasted in our wood-fired Toscana oven, I’m spoiled forever!
Since most people don’t have the luxury of a nearby chestnut tree, go to the best greengrocer near you and buy the chestnuts. Try for the freshest you can find–shiny and firm without too much give between the shell and the nut. I prefer the Italian variety since they are easier to clean than those from California.
Most people boil their chestnuts to make them easier to peel and then, perhaps, they roast them later. But we are the lucky few with wood-fired ovens.
- Make an X-cut on the round side of the chestnut with a small, sharp knife.
- Place them on a pizza pan or wood fired oven-safe dish and put them in a medium-hot oven, about 500°F.
- Roasting will only take about 7-8 minutes. (Depending on the age of the chestnut, and the heat of the oven, it may take longer.) The shell and skin of the nuts will pop open and curl back. I like roasting chestnuts in the oven long enough so there is some roasted color on part of the nut.
- Once they have cooled enough to touch, peel them, and start tasting their fresh, crisp flavor and texture.
Delicious Dessert Alternative
If you have roasted more than you can eat in a sitting, you might want to make a chestnut puree with cream, sugar, and vanilla. Pour the filling into individual, baked tart shells and cover the tops with melted bittersweet chocolate.
Oh, I wish my chestnut tree has some more!
Ci sentiamo presto!
You can watch a video demonstration of this recipe on the Forno Bravo Community Cookbook YouTube channel.