The best chestnuts for roasting are the larger, better quality called “marroni“. Only the rich brown, firm ones will do to produce sweet, soft, delicious roasted chestnuts. The regular “castagne” are best kept for boiling.
The fridge is the best place to store chestnuts before use, and the freezer for longer-term storage.
Chestnuts have a low-low fat content (0.6 grams per ounce and only 69 calories), they are potassium rich (608 mg per ounce), and don’t contain cholesterol, gluten, or oil.
HOW TO PREPARE CHESTNUTS
Always score or make slits to break the tough skin along the rounded side of each chestnut before cooking. This promotes even cooking and to keeps them from popping during cooking.
Soaking is a great method recommended by Leslie Land, to soften the shells and make them easier to score. Cover the chestnuts in a heat-resistant bowl with boiling water, and let soak for an hour or two. Score them as you remove them from the water, and continue with cooking.
HOW TO ROAST CHESTNUTS
Over an open fire, use a grill basket or hand-held popcorn roaster, with a long handle. Score the raw chestnuts, place them in the basket, and move or shake them frequently back and forth over the fire. Keep the chestnuts some inches away from the coals, so they will not char.
If the basket or roaster is kept at a reasonable distance from the heat, the chestnuts should be done when the skins have been blackened by the heat.
On the stovetop, a chestnut pan (a frying pan with holes on the bottom) works best. Score the raw chestnuts, put them in the pan, and sprinkle them with water. You can add multiple layers to the pan if it will be covered during roasting. Otherwise, we recommend you limit the quantity of chestnuts to just one layer at the bottom of the pan, or it will take longer and more shaking for them to roast properly.
Place the pan over a medium flame or heat setting. If you are using an electric stove with open elements, a metal trivet or heat diffuser between the pan and the open element will help prevent burnt marroni. Shake the pan back and forth frequently, to roast the chestnuts properly and to prevent their charring.
You will know they are done when the skins have become quite black, but not charred. This usually takes 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how many chestnuts are in the pan. It can take longer in certain instances, usually having to do with the type and amount of heat coming from your burner.
In the oven, pre-heated to 425°F, place a half-sheet pan (jelly roll pan) with an even layer of slit chestnuts (sprinkled with water if not pre-soaked), turning them over after 10 minutes, then baking for another 5 minutes. Keep them hot until you’re ready to shell them.
For the microwave, put a half dozen raw scored chestnuts on a dish, and cook them for about half a minute at full power.
HOW TO BOIL CHESTNUTS
To boil chestnuts, first slit the the raw chestnuts, boil for 10 minutes, and take them out of the water when you’re ready to shell them.
HOW TO MAKE CHESTNUT PASTE
To make basic chestnut paste, shell the raw chestnuts, boil about 10 minutes, remove the remaining fur-like skin, and pass through a potato ricer (or use a food processor or stick blender).
Hot chestnuts are really hot, so watch your fingers and your tongue. It only takes a few minutes for the marroni to become cool enough to enjoy their delicious meat. You can use a towel or cloth napkin for handling hot chestnuts.
The skin of cooked chestnuts hardens quickly and is more difficult to open when they are cooled. So crush roasted chestnuts in a towel while they are still hot, and their still-crispy skins will break apart. Or if boiled, cut the chestnuts in half and pinch back the skin, using a hot towel, or pincers.
HOW TO MAINTAIN YOUR STEEL CHESTNUT ROASTING PAN
The traditional steel chestnut roasting pan is the most practical utensil for roasting chestnuts. It is inexpensive, has holes in the bottom for better heat transfer for roasting, and reacts quickly to changes in temperature. A bit of maintenance will keep it useful for generations.
Wash your new pan by hand. Use hot, sudsy water. Rinse with hot water. Dry it thoroughly and immediately after washing.
Put it right on the stove to use.
Put a “light” coating of oil on the entire pan and handle if you are not going to immediately use it, and after use before you store it. We recommend mineral oil, because it is tasteless, odorless and does not become rancid.
Discoloration is normal with steel. It will also darken with repeated use; the surface becomes oxidized and helps prevent rust. Rust spots (which may occur if the pan is left wet, or if it is not oiled before storing) can be removed by sanding the rusted area with fine-grit sandpaper. Wash and dry the pan as above, and oil it before putting it in storage.