In Season: Oh, that old chestnut

Posted at 5:00 AM Nov 05, 2009

By Kathleen Willcox

Of all the nuts in the world, chestnuts are the most under-appreciated and woefully neglected. At least in the good ol' U.S. of A. Perhaps it's the dreaded and cornily crooned "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire" line in "Christmas Song" that makes post-World War II American citizens pooh-pooh the delicious delectable as stodgy 1940's fare.

In Europe, Asia and Africa, the lusty, starchy sunburst of flavor, aka, my friend the chestnut, is a pantry staple, and often a stand-in for the snooze-inducing potato in many a recipe.

So stop abandoning the chestnut--not only is it earthy, woodsy, rich and buttery, like other nuts, unlike most, it's super-low in fat while still maintaining a super-high protein profile. Fall is the time to scoop up the freshly fallen nuts. Go out and plunder the woods, or for the city-bound, the grocery store shelves, -and stock up on these complex, surprisingly tasty nutritional power houses. You'll find yourself using them in all kinds of stir-frys, baked concoctions, roasts, sauces and snack mixes. I love using them for a delectably unctuous rice pilaf.

Recipe: Oh, That Old Chestnut Pilaf
Serves four

1 C wild rice (rinsed and soaked for an hour before use)
1 C Kasha
1 T butter
2 T olive oil
1 large shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium carrot, peeled, very small dice
2 C chestnuts, chopped
1 T fresh tarragon (or 1 tsp dried)
1 tsp red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
4 C warm broth (chicken or veggie will work)


  • Keep broth warmed in a heavy pot after bringing it up to a gentle simmer.
  • In a separate soup pot, warm olive oil and butter, add shallot. Cook until translucent. Add the diced carrot, salt and pepper, cook for about 5 minutes over a low heat. Don't allow the shallot or the carrot to take on too much color. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds until fragrant.
  • Add the chestnuts, coat them in the oil and butter for about 1 minute.
  • Add the rice and Kasha, coat them in the oil and butter and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  • Start stirring in the broth, ½ cup at a time until the liquid is absorbed. Cook at low simmer, allowing bubbles to form but never allowing a full boil to develop. Continue adding broth until the rice and kasha are cooked al dente. Taste occasionally and add salt, pepper, red pepper flakes to taste. If you need more liquid and cooking time, add it as you go, feeling free to sub in warm water if you run out of broth.
  • Garnish with fresh or dried thyme.
  • Eat and enjoy!


ogie said:

the reason that the chestnut is under appreciated is becasue the chestnut tree is basically non-existent in this country. A blight in the early 1900's completely eradicated the American chestnut tree. Prior to that about 1 in four trees in the northeast US were chestnut trees. in total around 4Billion trees were killed. It was later discovered that the blight was caused by a fungus on Asian chestnut trees planted on LongIsland NY.

As for the current chestnut trees that are in the US the majority of them are Horse Chestnut Trees, which bear nuts that are not edible by humans. Hence the lack of the chestnut in the american diet.

Wendy said:

Chestnuts Kathleen?! Nobody writes about chestnuts. How very very cool.

I've a fetish for chestnuts; marrons glaces, or roasted on a fire in an oil drum on the streets of Pahree. Scenting the whole French world with their smoky sweetness and slightly burned shells, slit with a cross to keep them from bursting. Heaped into a paper cone, keeping the fingers warm, with that toasted slightly sweet unique offering, while you're out getting all caressed by the ancient ghosts floating over the misty streets in the City of Lights.

Wow! Ogie, 1 in four trees? That is so sad. I hope they made floors and things with all that wood. I must have me something chestnut soon!

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