To be honest, I cannot say I was ever a real fan of the chestnut. Perhaps it was the smell of something burning which permeated the air when we lived in Hong Kong. Roasted chestnuts are a beloved winter tradition in Hong Kong. Mobile hawker stalls spring up on sidewalks around the city and outside subway stations. The best chestnuts come from China’s Shandong province. The soil there is good, and the climate suits the growing of chestnuts. A roasted chestnut has a delicate and slightly sweet flavor with a soft texture similar to sweet potato. In autumn, Italians love roasting chestnuts. According to La Cucina Italiana, Italy’s love affair with chestnuts first started as far back as Ancient Roman times, when they used chestnuts as a form of currency and trade, especially when there were fewer crops due to poor weather, resulting in famine. Chestnuts paired with wine have become a traditional food combination associated with the harvest period. They are available from September through February, and most chestnuts found in America are imported from Italy.
1 lb. chestnuts
1 to 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 to 3 tablespoons tahini
1 to 2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 cup olive oil
sea salt to taste
Preheat oven to 425f. Use a sharp paring knife, make an X-shaped cut on the round side of each chestnut. This step keeps them from exploding from internal pressure when heated and makes peeling easier after roasting. Arrange chestnuts on a baking sheet. Roast until the skins have pulled back from the cuts and the inside has softened (about 15 to 20 min.). Remove chestnuts from the oven and pile them into an old tea towel. Wrap up and squeeze them hard. Pull and snap off the dark shells to reveal the yellowish-white chestnuts. While peeling, make sure to also remove the papery skin between the shell and the chestnut.
Combine cooked and peeled chestnuts, garlic, lemon juice, tahini, cumin, oil, in a food processor. Process until smooth. If dry, add a couple of tablespoons of hot water. Adjust seasonings according to taste.
the culinary chase’s note:
If you have a favorite hummus dip, switch the chickpeas for chestnuts. Enjoy!