Did you already have your first chestnut soup of this season? If not, it's time! In my opinion, the deliciously sweet chestnut is an absolute highlight in the fall/ winter kitchen. Thanks to their aromatic, mildly nutty and naturally sweet flavor, chestnuts make a perfect hero ingredient in soups, pasta, pancakes and even delicious chocolate cakes. And the best part: Thanks to the natural sweetness of the chestnut, you save on sugar, can omit the gluten-rich cereals and you even provide your body with loads of healthy minerals and vitamins.
Botanically speaking chestnuts are edible "nut fruits" native to temperate climate zones. They grow on so-called chestnut trees which produce edible seeds or "nut fruits" covered in a prickly shell throughout fall and winter season. Back in the days, chestnuts were considered a staple food of the "poor". They were abundant in nature and free for everyone who couldn't afford a market visit. And thanks to their rich nutrient profile, they helped people to stay healthy throughout the cold winter days. For more details on their nutrient profile, read on.
Even though chestnuts are officially part of the nut family, they greatly differ in their nutrient composition. Unlike their high-fat, high protein friends (Walnut, Brazil Nut, Hazelnut), chestnuts are rich in carbohydrates, healthy fibre and tons of micro-nutrients, such as potassium, magnesium, selenium and B-Vitamins. This makes them a wonderful “healthy carb” and a great addition to your winter diet.
In summary, the key nutrient benefits of chestnuts are
Great source of "healthy carbohydrates" supporting weight-loss
With 5.1g of fibre and 52.96g of carbohydrates, chestnuts are particularly rich in complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates make you feel full and satisfied after a lunch while preventing your body from the classic post-meal blood sugar level spikes.
Diverse nutrient-profile of chestnuts serves as an immune system booster
Chestnuts contain a unique, immune system boosting mineral- and vitamin profile consisting of iron (0.9mg per 100g), magnesium (33mg per 100g), selenium (1.2μg per 100g), potassium (592mg per 100g) and Vitamin C (26mg per 100g). Nourishing your body with various fruits, veggies, nuts, legumes and seeds available during winter season and which all come along with their unique nutrient-profile, will boost your your immune system and ensure to stay healthy, happy and satisfied during the cold winter months.
Chestnuts are a wonderful "fall nut" to collect during a refreshing fall walk. Of course, provided that you live somewhere they grow, such as in Italy, Spain our South France (where I've seen many chestnut trees this season). If you don't feel like picking them yourself, check at your local farmer's market or even at the conventional supermarket where they may be available throughout October to December.
Once you have your chestnuts at home, don't feel super rushed. Chestnuts should stay fresh for up to a week at room temperature. Their aroma even enhances through the "hot apartment air". Thereafter though, they start to sprout and loose their natural fresh, nutty and mild flavor. So make sure to cook them within a week after purchase/collection.
And a little sidetone: If you can't find fresh chestnuts wherever you live, try to look for vacuum packaged chestnuts. Those are typically additive-free pre-cooked and packaged chestnuts which make a perfect base for your delicious chestnut pie, pasta or soup.
Depending on your desired outcome, a delicious chestnut soup, chestnut pappardelle or chestnut tacos, you choose the way of prepping your chestnuts. You can either eat them raw, cook them in a pot or, alternatively, bake them in the oven. For most recipes, it doesn't matter how you remove the non-edible chestnut skin. The only difference is the aroma. While chestnuts have a mildly nutty and almost neutral flavor in their "raw state", they turn into deliciously sweet and aromatic nuts after a good roast. I personally love the oven-roast aroma, which you may be familiar with from a stroll along the winter market. In case you don't have an oven at home though, boiling the chestnuts in water also works perfectly to unfold their naturally sweet aroma and soften the nuts for further processing.
In the following, I will share with you both methods on how to prepare chestnuts properly for further processing.
I am a true DIY advocate when it comes to food. However, I already give you my heads up: Prepping raw chestnuts is pretty time intensive. You start with a little chestnut water-bath. Soak your chestnuts into a hot water bath for about 10 minutes. This will facilitate to scratch the skin in the following and ensure they won't dry out in the oven. After 10 minutes, take the chestnuts out of the water, take a knife and scratch the skin in a cross shape on the curved side of the nut. Place the sliced chestnuts onto a baking sheet and place them in the oven at 180 degrees Celsius. Bake for about 15-20 min (depending on the chestnut size). I recommend to check the chestnuts after 15 min. The skin should visibly separate from the flesh on the curved side when you take them out.
Now, it's time to peel the chestnuts, which, by the way, can be pretty time consuming. If you're lucky, you can easily separate them from the peel. However, you may see that some chestnuts contain moulded parts, are fully rotten on the inside or stick very tight to their shell. Remove all moulded parts and try to use a knife to separat the nuts from their skin if you can't remove them with your hands. Only the inner pulp of the chestnut is edible and known as the yummy fall nut and hero ingredient in many delicious winter recipes.
The alternative to a chestnut roast in the oven, is a hot water boil to soften the nuts for further processing. Therefore, place the nuts into boiling water, add a pinch of salt and cook them for about 10 minutes. Then, take the chestnuts out, dry them and remove the skin of the nut. The advantage of boiling your chestnuts in water is, they are much easier to peel. However, the aroma unfortunately isn't as flavorful as it is after a good oven-roast. My recommendation: Use this method when you're short in time.
I hope you enjoyed this little article aka DIY manual on how to prep, cook and store chestnuts properly. Tag me in your photos of your next chestnut treasure hunt and share your lovely plant food creations with me. I am beyond excited to see your very veggie results. Tag me on Pinterest, Instagram or Facebook.