Call me a romantic, but the smooth, shiny exteriors of chestnuts remind me of a teddy bear’s nose. Just looking at them brings back a flood of memories guided by the senses. Visions of roasting chestnuts over an open fire, popping open in netted baskets only to reveal a nut filled with earthiness and faint wisps of smoke pass for my minds’ eye. Christmas market memories in Florence, Rome and the mountain town of Bassano del Grappa, come vividly to life and I have half a mind to jump on the night train to Milan.
As the verses of “’T’was the night before Christmas” from my favorite childhood picture book dance in my head, I check the clock to see just how long it takes to make a clean-cut across each chestnut before putting them in the oven. In just under twenty minutes I am peeling away the warm outer shells of a pile of chestnuts and breaking open the nuts to pull away their papery husks. Just as I thought — today there is no need to look further than the pantry for natural flavors and a perfect wintry snack wrapped in happy memories.
Ingredients for herb and honey roasted chestnuts
- 500 grams of chestnuts
- the leaves of a small bunch of sage leaves . about 24 . or a small handful
- one tablespoon of Celtic sea salt
- one generous tablespoon of new harvest olive oil
- two cloves of smoked or fresh garlic
- 6-8 stalks of fresh thyme
- one tablespoon of raw honey
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Make a cut across the rounded part of the chestnut with a sharp paring knife. Layer the chestnuts on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Roast them in the oven 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile pick the leaves of sage and chop them on a cutting board with the Celtic sea salt until a green mossy consistency. Stir in half the salt into the new harvest olive oil and set aside. Pick the leaves of thyme. Peel and chop the garlic into paper-thin slices. Mix the garlic and thyme through the honey in a separate bowl.
Once the shells have opened and the kitchen smells warm and woody, the chestnuts are done. Take the tray out of the oven and allow them to cool to the touch. Peel the shells away carefully while still warm. Remove the paper-like husk in the middle of the nut.
Divide the peeled chestnuts into two bowls and drizzle one with honey and thyme with garlic; the other with sage salt and olive oil and enjoy!
Toss the chestnuts through a salad or crumble them through pasta! With or without the herbs and honey, they are an amazing filling for freshly made bread as well.
“’T’was the night before Christmas” is a poem written by Clement Clarke Moore in 1822. It is a must read if you don’t already know it by heart.
This recipe and story was originally published in Dutch on Jamie Magazine NL on 4/12/2015.