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Chestnuts, during the holiday season, go hand in hand with roasting their tough shells are nearly impossible to remove without it, and their high levels of tannic acid make it inadvisable to eat them raw. Chestnuts lack the crunch of other nuts; their starchy texture is almost potatolike. Grab fresh chestnuts during their limited winter season, or buy them ready to use year-round, in jars and vacuum pouches.

To roast them, cut an X on the flat side of each chestnut with a sharp paring knife. Place chestnuts in a grill pan or chestnut roaster and gently shake over a fire for about 15 minutes. If you prefer to roast them in the oven, place them in a shallow baking pan and roast 20 minutes at 350 degrees, or until corners of Xs curl up. While warm, remove outer shell. To remove papery skin, roll the chestnuts in a clean dish towel.

People have enjoyed chestnuts in several forms for centuries. By Roman times, chestnuts were being ground into flour. The original Italian polenta was made from chestnut meal, enjoyed for centuries before the introduction of corn. Chestnut flour (which lacks the gluten that gives structure to wheat breads) was made into flatbreads and was used to extend wheat flour. Chestnut flour is still popular in Italian baked goods.

A chestnut variety indigenous to North America was plentiful when European settlers arrived. A blight in the early 20th century, believed to have been caused by imported Asian trees, all but wiped out the American chestnut. Biologists are still working on a comeback, but the nuts we buy today are generally imported.

>Brussels Sprouts and Chestnuts

2 1/2 cups shelled chestnuts (about 1 pound unshelled)

1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 ounces chopped ham

2 tablespoons soy sauce

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Toss chestnuts, Brussels sprouts, olive oil, salt and pepper together on a baking sheet. Roast 30 to 40 minutes. During the last 10 minutes, stir in ham and soy sauce. Serves 6.

Per serving: 280 calories, 7g fat, 10mg chol., 9g prot., 47g carbs., 4g fiber, 560mg sodium.

Look for Relish magazine the first Thursday of each month in The Buffalo News.