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Published January 07, 2014, 02:13 PM

Lost Italian: There's still time for chestnuts

If you’re like us, this holiday season was so jam-packed with activities that, while you might have sung about chestnuts roasting on an open fire, that’s about as close as you could get to this long-standing holiday treat.

By: Sarah and Tony Nasello, INFORUM

If you’re like us, this holiday season was so jam-packed with activities that, while you might have sung about chestnuts roasting on an open fire, that’s about as close as you could get to this long-standing holiday treat.

Luckily, chestnuts are still available in our local stores for the next couple weeks, and we encourage you to explore this savory treat while you can.

Chestnuts are a winter nut with a fairly short season, typically available only in December and January. They come from the same family of trees as the oak and beech, and are unrelated to horse and water chestnuts.

Chestnuts have a unique, sweet flavor and are ideal for roasting as their raw flavor is often slightly chalky and bitter. When roasted, this nut becomes soft, starchy and creamy, similar in texture to a baked potato.

Tony grew up with roasted chestnuts as a holiday tradition, eating them in their natural state, but they can be enjoyed in a diversity of other ways: coarsely ground and incorporated into a breadcrumb coating for chicken or fish (chestnut-coated walleye would be amazing), as an ingredient in stuffing or, in this instance, pureed and used as the main component in Tony’s Roasted Chestnut Vinaigrette.

Prior to roasting, each chestnut must be scored with an “X” carved on the flat side of the nut, as they are high in water content and will otherwise dramatically explode, which is not our desired outcome (don’t ask how we know this). You can use a special knife designed for this purpose, which Tony has, but he often prefers a sharp paring knife instead.

Chestnuts can be roasted in a special pan directly over an open fire, or on a sheet pan in a 425 degree oven. Once each chestnut has been scored, lay the nuts x-side up on the pan. Cook until the shells begin to open and curl back, about 8 to 10 minutes over an open flame, or 30 to 40 minutes in the oven. Remove them from the heat and allow to rest until just cool enough to handle.

Peel the entire shell, including the inner skin, from the chestnut, discarding any nuts that are discolored or black. Once peeled, they can be enjoyed right away either on their own or in a recipe, or stored in the refrigerator for up to three days.

The starch content of this nut will create a smooth, creamy texture in Tony’s vinaigrette.

Citrus pairs wonderfully with the creaminess of chestnuts, and for this salad Tony has chosen mixed greens, fresh orange sections, caramelized shallots and shaved parmesan cheese for a delicious winter salad.

Winter Salad with Roasted Chestnut Vinaigrette

Serves 4 to 6

Vinaigrette ingredients

1 pound whole chestnuts, roasted and peeled

1 clove of garlic, minced

2 tablespoons honey

½ cup water

1/3 cup white wine vinegar

1 cup vegetable or canola oil

Salad ingredients

1 package mixed greens

3 oranges, sectioned

24 parmesan cheese shavings

6 caramelized shallots (see below)

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Blend the chestnuts in a food processor until finely ground. Add the remaining ingredients, except the oil, and mix until incorporated. With the food processor running, add the oil in a slow steady stream until emulsified.

Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Toss the vinaigrette with spring greens and top with roasted shallots, orange sections and shaved Parmesan.

To store, cover and refrigerate up to one week.

To make caramelized shallots, slice each shallot into quarter-inch slices and sauté with 3 tablespoons vegetable oil and 1 teaspoon kosher salt over low-medium heat until the shallots become soft and tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Tony’s tips

  • Once peeled, remove any nuts that are discolored or black inside.

  • Use white wine, champagne or cider vinegar, but not red wine vinegar because it is too strong.

  • If the vinaigrette is too thick, add water one tablespoon at a time to thin out.

  • Do not use olive oil for this recipe, as its strong flavor will dominate the vinaigrette.

  • To make a breadcrumb coating for fish or chicken, coarsely grind the roasted and peeled chestnuts in the food processor, and mix with Panko breadcrumbs, fresh herbs, salt and pepper.

    Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello’s restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 9-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at dine@sarellos.com. All previous recipes can be found at http://thelostitalian.areavoices.com

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