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Now until December, enjoy American-grown chestnuts at their flavorful best

Posted: October 22, 2013 - 12:59pm  |  Updated: October 23, 2013 - 2:57pm

More chestnuts are grown in the states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Florida and California than in any other states in the country. Of those states, Michigan is the leader. For many years, however, cooks had to rely on imported chestnuts from countries such as Italy and China, or pricey jarred “marrons” from France, for their cooking needs – and for good reason. By the first half of the 20th century, mature American chestnut tree that once thrived in our eastern forests from Maine to Georgia (and beyond), were wiped out, by the billions, by a devastating fungus, known as chestnut “blight,” which was accidentally imported to this country from Asia. (To learn more about efforts to restore the American chestnut tree to our eastern woodlands, visit The American Chestnut Foundation, at www.acf.org. Last weekend, from October 18 through 20, the organization celebrated “30 Years of Chestnut Restoration” at its 30th annual meeting.) Chestnuts may be boiled or steamed (good for puréeing or mashing), roasted, or ground for use in a variety of diverse recipes from appetizers and soups (see recipes here from Michigan’s Chestnut Growers, Inc.), to side dishes and desserts. In addition, chestnut flour, made from ground chestnuts, is a good option for folks looking for a gluten-free alternative to wheat flour. When you next purchase chestnuts, be sure they are from this country. Despite the U.S. chestnut crop being miniscule – less than one percent of total world production according to the Agriculture Marketing Resource Center – chances are good that domestic chestnuts will be far fresher and of greater quality than what you’d get otherwise.

 

Sue Ade is a syndicated food writer with broad experience and interest in the culinary arts. She has worked and resided in the Lowcountry of South Carolina since 1985 and may be reached at kitchenade@yahoo.com.

Halberg's Filo Cups with Goat Cheese and Chestnut Souffle

8 ounces goat cheese

2 ounces cream cheese

2 ounces cream

2 large eggs

½ cup peeled chestnuts, ground*

Salt and pepper to taste

2 teaspoons minced fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, basil and chives)

4 sheets of filo, each lightly buttered and cut into 12 equal squares

Butter (for greasing muffin tin cups)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter mini-muffin tin cups and place each square of filo in a cup with corners of filo pointing up. Combine all soufflé ingredients and mix well. Spoon into prepared filo cups (you will have some custard left over), place in oven and bake about 12 to 15 minutes until soufflés are puffed up and just set. Carefully remove from muffin tin and serve with a salad of organic greens dressed with a light vinaigrette.

 

*Kitchen Ade note: to facilitate peeling, roast chestnut first.

Kelly's Roasted Chestnut and Butternut Squash Soup

½ cup diced onion

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup peeled and diced butternut squash

2 cups roasted chestnuts

3 cups chicken stock

1 cup white wine

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Sauté diced onion in butter until translucent; add next four ingredients and simmer 20 minutes or until chestnuts and squash are tender; purée with a hand held mixer until smooth and then season with salt and pepper; add more stock if soup is too thick. Serves 6 to 8.

Two Oven-roast Chestnuts

First, cut an “X” on the flat end of the chestnut, slicing through the hard outer shell and into the inner skin. (This is done to prevent the chestnut from exploding when steam is created inside the shell during cooking.) Place the scored chestnuts on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake in moderate (350 degree) oven for 20 minutes (or until skin curls), stirring every five to ten minutes. Remove chestnuts from the oven and using a kitchen towel to help handle the hot chestnuts, peel away the outer shell and thin brown skin to get to the nutmeats. (Do not allow the chestnuts to cool too much before peeling, or the shell will be impossible to remove. In the event they become to cool to peel, reheat the chestnuts for a few minutes in the oven.) You can freeze cooked and shelled chestnuts in an airtight container for six to nine months.

Two old chestnut recipes

Here are two old recipe from Edith Barber’s Silver Jubilee (1930-1955) Super Market Cook Book. I’ve seen similar recipes from cookbooks that predates Barber’s book, likely from the days when American chestnuts were plentiful.

Quick-Roasted Chestnuts

Wash chestnuts, dry, and cut 2 crossed gashes on flat side of each nut. Heat 2 teaspoons salad oil or butter in heavy frying pan. Add nuts, and shake over low heat until shells loosen. Cool, and remove shells and skins with sharp knife. Cut or slice nut meats coarsely for serving with creamed brussels sprouts or onions, or use as an ingredient for stuffing. (For stuffing, substitute 1 cup sliced Quick-Roasted Chestnuts for 1½ cups bread crumbs.) Allow ¼ to 1/3 pound per serving.

Chestnut Puree

Use preceding recipe (for Quick-Roasted Chestnuts), leaving peeled chestnuts whole. Cover with salted boiling water and cook 15 to 20 minutes, until very tender. Put through potato ricer and season with salt, pepper, and butter or cream. Serve instead of potatoes with chicken. Allow 1/3 to ½ pound chestnuts per serving.

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