“A Handful of Flour: An Italian-American Legacy of Food and Love”
By LM Masiello
Recipe: Roasted Chestnuts
Verona, NJ – on what was then a dirt road in the “country”. This is where my grandfather built his family’s second home. He planted saplings from a local nursery around the property; Italian chestnut, hazelnut, sour cherry, Mimosa, sappy pines, a holly that dripped red with berries each winter and pussy wllow. The trees grew and thrived, growing older alongside my grandfather, whom I lovingly called “poppie”.
Of all of the trees in his yard however, my grandfather’s greatest passion was for the chestnuts. Every fall, he watched the trees grow heavy with the spiny pods that held his treasure. And pop also went to war. He went to war with the neighborhood squirrels, staking his claim over the chestnuts. This was a serious business because if he wasn’t diligent, the squirrels would eat the nuts as fast as they fell off the tree!
One year, he covered the trees with huge nets, enlisting the entire family as his crew. Most times, he trimmed the pods off the trees with a tree saw that he made in his workshop. We would gather the spiny orbs, pinching our fingers in the process, and lay them out in the safety of the back porch, where they eventually split open, revealing ripe chestnuts.
Most of poppie’s trees are still standing and as I write this, chestnuts are falling to the ground and bouncing off the roof of his house like an autumn rain. And I think of him always as I gather up the chestnuts that he loved so much. He watches over me you see, and he’s cursing at those pesky squirrels.
Serve roasted chestnuts Italian-style: after your main meal, accompanied by fresh figs and fennel or “finoccio”.
• Using a very sharp paring knife, cut a deep “x” in the flattest side the chestnut.
• Place chestnuts in the freezer for about 20 minutes.
• In the meantime, preheat oven to 350° F.
• Remove chestnuts from the freezer and place on a baking sheet in a single layer.
• Roast for about 20 minutes, or chestnuts are fragrant the folds of “x” peel outward.
• Remove from oven.
• Serve warm and peel as you eat.
• Or, when they are cool enough to handle, peel the chestnuts immediately.
• Place peeled chestnuts in a covered container and refrigerate.
Note: Chestnuts are high in moisture and protein and low in fat.
They spoil easily, so be sure to keep them cool and dry, before and after cooking.