Unless you are one of our faithful readers from my hometown in Italy, chances are you have never heard of the fall tradition of Törggelen. It’s the time when people in my town visit the farmers’ houses to try the first wine of the season, eat some cured speck and, best of all, snack on the most delicious fresh roasted chestnuts. It is a true celebration of the fall, and those chestnuts, “na so eppes guats”. In case you haven’t figured it out, chestnuts are one of my favorite treats.
There are several different varieties of chestnuts, but the one most often sold in the U.S. comes from Europe as the North American chestnut population was nearly wiped out by blight in the early 1900s. So while chestnuts are not ubiquitous, you can still find fresh or pre-cooked chestnuts at places like Trader Joes or Whole Foods, particularly during the holiday season. Chestnuts have high water content, should be stored in the refrigerator, and eaten soon after picking, when they are still fresh.
The easiest way to eat chestnuts is to cook boil them in lightly salted water on the stove for 30 minutes, or until the inside is soft (which can take up to 60 minutes). Because the chestnuts need to stay moist, leave them in the water taking them out one-by-one to peel them. Eat the nutmeat alone while it is still warm, or pair a bowl of peeled chestnuts with milk – like you would cereal. They have a distinct, great taste, similar to yams or kombucha pumpkins. Yum.
If you feel a little more adventurous – and need a unique, easy to prepare, and delicious holiday sweet for your celebrations – try this simple chestnut cake. It’s gluten-free, sweet but not overpowering, and has less than 4 ingredients. Serve it with a little whipped cream and you’re a star!
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