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chestnuts

November means roasted chestnuts! With chestnuts we can really feel the Fall season, with its wonderful colours. As persimmons and pumpkins, that are excellent fruits and vegetables of Autumn, also chestnuts are perfect to make a cold day a pleasant one. Roasted or boiled, chestnuts can become the main ingredient of hot soups and traditional biscuits. A versatile, traditional and tasty product that can be used from appetizer to dessert. Do you know the nutritional values, the benefits and the uses in cooking of chestnuts? The following guide will give you an idea of what you can do with the Autumn fruit par excellence, from its harvesting to its storing.  

 

Properties, benefits and nutritional values of chestnuts

The chestnut, whose scientific name is “Castanea vulgaris”, is the fruit of the chestnut tree, a plant that has become very well known in Europe thanks to its trunks - used for the production of timber - and to its fruits, that in the past, represented an important food source for the local inhabitants, but also for those lived in the mountains. The economic role connected to the chestnut tree growing has been reduced significantly. The production of chestnut flour, mostly used in the confectionery industry, has become marginal. However, the chestnut is a fruit that can be used fresh, dried or minced: it is very important in the history and in the food tradition of European populations, who have defined the chestnut as the “cereal that grows on trees”, because it has the same nutritional values of rice and wheat. The benefits of chestnuts are various. What do you know about them?

 

Let’s start simple: do not be scared of the caloric intake of chestnuts, if you are on a diet, consider the possibility of eating fewer of them, without exaggerating.  Although they are not recommended for diets – because many people believe chestnuts are fattening, no one should deprive themselves of chestnuts in Autumn especially when they have just been cooked and give off their scent along streets during the first cold days.  Chestnuts are very tasty and rich in nutritional properties and vitamin C. They are a source of energy for the body and are useful especially in Autumn with the season changing and the immune system decreases. The calories of chestnuts are various and depend on the way they are cooked: 100gr of raw chestnuts provide 100kcal; boiled chestnuts provide 120kcal. 100gr of roasted chestnuts have a higher energy input with 190kcal, whereas dried provide 300kcal.

 

Let’s consider that a chestnut weights from 26-27gr to 30gr, depending on shape and size.

Chestnuts have a lot of benefits and nutritional values: this cool season crop is rich in dietary elements, phosphorus, water, carbohydrates (84%), proteins (7%) and fats (9%), and also in dietary fibers, that are fundamental to improve intestinal activities. They have a high energetic value, thanks to the supply of dietary elements, that are precious and useful for our health and guarantee our body a good hydration while providing the energy that our body needs.

 

Do chestnuts have side effects?

Chestnuts are an excellent source of iron and folic acid. For this reason, they are recommended during pregnancy or in case of anemia, but also to help lower bad cholesterol. In fact, the chestnut is a vegetable food and for this reason could be put in a hypercholesterolemia diet. Chestnuts are gluten-free, and are a perfect autumnal snack intended for use in gluten-sensitive, wheat allergy and celiac disease patients. For those who suffer from diabetes, they should not eat them because of their high caloric content.

There are many ways to cook and eat chestnuts, as we will see below. Many people ask if raw chestnuts are fit to eat . Of course! But, be sure to eat them without shells and without exaggerating. Raw chestnuts could be heavy and difficult to digest. For this reason it’s better to cook them traditionally or prepare them with other recipes.

 

Are chestnuts gluten-free?

As we have said before, chestnuts are gluten-free and they  are a great ally to combat fatigue during Autumn. Celiac disease patients can eat chestnuts without worrying, and put them in their gluten-free diet.

 

Chestnut varieties

There are many varieties of chestnuts. Depending on the climate and the places where they are cultivated, each land offers a different type of chestnuts and for this reason, in Italy,  many varieties have obtained the PGI (Protect Geographic Indications) and PDO(Protected designation of Origin). Here a list of the best Italian chestnuts:

  • Monte Amiata (PGI) Chestnuts
  • Montella (PGI) Chestnuts
  • Cuneo (PGI) Chestnuts
  • Vallerano (PDO) Chestnuts

 

What is the difference between a chestnut and a marron?

Although they are very similar, there is a distinction between chestnuts and marrons. Marrons and Chestnuts have different origins: chestnuts are small fruits, with a dark-brown skin, that grow on wild chestnut trees, marrons are big-size fruits with reddish coloured skin, that grow on a Castanea Sativa cultivar of excellent quality. Here a list of the PGI and PDO Italian marrons varieties:

  • Scala (PGI) Marrons
  • Roccadaspide (PGI) Marrons
  • Monfenera (PGI) Marrons
  • Combai (PGI) Marrons
  • Caprese Michelangelo (PDO) Marrons
  • Valle di Susa (PGI) Marrons
  • Castel del Rio (PGI) Marrons
  • Mugello (PGI) Marrons
  • San Zeno(PDO) Marrons

 

How can you cook your chestnuts?

The common way to prepare chestnuts is by roasting them. Roasted chestnuts are the traditional symbol of autumnal days in front of the fireplace or down the streets of your city. Their scent is irresistible! If you want to prepare an energizing snack at home that will become perfect if combined with a good red-wine, follow our tips. For any recipe you need to slice them along the flat side, this allow you to boil, roast or grill the nuts in the shell, and then to remove it when it’s softened. Due to its versatility,  there are many ways to cook them and also many recipes.

To roast chestnuts, place them in a baking sheet in 400F oven for 20minutes, stirring occasionally. Other ways to include chestnuts in cooking, are to use them boiled, dried or blended to obtain a chestnuts cream.

Boiled chestnuts are a traditional autumnal recipe and are easy and fast to prepare. They can be used in savoury or sweet recipes. To boil chestnuts simmer them with their shells for at least 40 minutes (or 60 minutes if they are too big). If you use a pressure cooker it will take less time. Add some spices and aromatic herbs to the water like bay leaves, rosemary, cinnamon and ginger.

You can also cook few of them in a microwave, after cutting the shell. Remember that 100gr of boiled chestnuts provide 130kcal, as reported in the nutrition fact panel drawn up by USDA U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Dried chestnuts are a valid alternative to the traditional storage through freezing of the sweetest autumnal fruit. In the olden times, mountain people and ploughmen used to dry chestnuts to make chestnut flour,  use them in cooking to prepare traditional dishes or to boil them in  their milk. Nowadays, dried chestnuts are available in the market and are used in many autumnal dishes like potato gnocchi with chestnuts,  chestnut soup with legumes and roast meat with dried chestnuts. The perfect marriage is between chestnuts and red-wine, that has become synonymous of Autumn.

 

Wine and Chestnuts: be careful to the right match!

Close your eyes and let yourself be taken on a trip of scent and flavour in front of a fireplace with some friends: a glass of red wine and few roasted chestnuts. It is the best way to relax on cold days of Autumn. Many people love this bond, and there are various possible combinations. The cheese lovers will be welcomed to know that chestnuts and red wine are perfect if combined with some aged goat cheese. If you aren’t a wine expert, choose a rugged red wine or a tannic wine -tannins stress the chestnuts flavour- like the Novello wine that is always perfect! White wine or sweet wine is not recommended whatever the preparation.

 

How to store chestnuts for a long time

Unfortunately fresh chestnuts are available only for a little time, especially in the Fall season. Chestnut lovers can store them: raw, roasted or shelled, they can be frozen in bags intended for food use for up to 6 months in the freezer. When you have the desire for chestnuts, just take them out and put them in the oven to re-warm.

For shorter periods, you may keep the nuts in your refrigerator for up to 1 month, at a temperature of 36F, that means placing the chestnuts on the top shelf of the fridge.

Another way of storing chestnuts is through “drowning”: it is an old traditional method that may keep chestnuts for up to 3 months. It takes 9 days and you start soaking chestnuts in plenty of water. In the first 2 days discard all the nuts afloat, and change just a little water every day. The fifth and the eighth day change the water totally. In this way chestnuts will ferment and this guarantees good storage. In the end, place the chestnuts in a cloth and dry them. Finally, store them in jars.

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