Roasting chestnuts...

(If you have never roasted chestnuts before, I highly recommend giving it a try this holiday season! Sure, there is some work in roasting and particularly shelling part, but what better way to spend your holidays chatting with friends or family camped in front of fireplace shelling and snacking on these delicious chestnuts.. give it a try if you can - it sure won't disappoint you. This post one of my very early 2009 posts; I had forgotten I wrote this until recently I was reading through my earliest posts and came across "Roasting Chestnuts" and had to re-share it again - 'tis the season after-all!)

Come December all of my car's FM radio preset channels seem to be falling pray one by one to the ever pervasive Christmas music. Now I love the holiday tunes and enjoy them most of the time, but there just isn't something right when I am driving to work burdened with an impending end-of-year deadline and the lady on the radio is cheering happily "its the most wonderful time...!":-). Anyway, one such morning I was driving to work and heard the song "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.." by Nat King Cole and I was suddenly inspired to roast some chestnuts at home in the spirit of Christmas!

I shared the idea with a friend at work who looked at me with a why-in-the-world-would-you-do-that kinda way. "It is just so much easier to buy pre-roasted pre-shelled chestnuts and they don't really taste that different from the ones from your oven, you know!". Well, I didn't have much of an answer to her other than "I have never roasted them before and I want to give it a shot". Sure thing, a little while and a lot of googling later I knew what she meant, it did look like a reasonable work, particularly the shelling part.

Undeterred on my way home I bought a pack of chestnuts at Trader Joe's. I put on my favorite CD, made myself a cup of Chai and got to work! Just as chestnuts were coming out of the oven my husband walked in commenting "something smells nice!". I was shelling the chestnuts and he decided to join me. This was a departure from our usual after-work routine of checking emails/blogs and watching TV. While shelling and eating the chestnuts we talked about how our day went by, gossiped a little and just had a good time in general... we shared some tricks to make the nuts easy to shell and we both shared with the other the ones that we thought were the best.. and while doing that I realized it is indeed worth the time and effort to roast & shell chestnuts yourself the old-fashioned way once-in-a-while just to give you that breaker from the always-connected always-busy world we live in and spend quality time with friends and family making new memories on the way :-) afterall, it is the season!

So, here is a quick how-to on how I roasted the chestnuts:
Source: A lot of help from Google; specially here and here.
     1. Pre-heat oven to 425F.
     2. Clean chestnuts with a dry towel removing any pieces of dirt.
   3. Place the chestnuts base-side down on a cutting board. Using a paring knife scratch a cross on the rounded side of the chestnuts. Please be careful here as its easy for the knife to slip and cut your hand instead! Cutting the chestnuts is needed so that they don't burst open in the oven while roasting. Like so:

    4. Place all the chestnuts on an aluminium foil and bake for 30-40 mins on upper oven rack.
    5. Remove from the oven, they should have opened up looking like these:

    6. Let the chestnuts cool just enough to handle them by hand. Peel and discard both the outer and the inner shell and enjoy the nutty mass inside!

If you let it cool down a lot before peeling then the peeling process does get a bit difficult. Some of my chestnuts opened up really well and easily while some were a bit difficult. For the difficult ones we had to use a spoon to flesh out the nut inside.

For those who haven't tasted roasted chestnuts before they taste like a cross between roasted sweet potatoes and walnuts to me. Enjoy them as is or with a sprinkling of salt, pepper and olive oil. They make a perfect snack or you can chop them into pieces and sprinkle over soups or salads.