Firsts…. and Happy New Year!
This year I’ve transcended the need to hear the booming detonation of chestnuts, bursting and exploding out of their skins, spitting overdone meat on the four walls that would later need to be scraped and scrubbed or better yet cremated into ash in a self-cleaning oven if you were so lucky as to have one of those. This is how we used to know they were done. The explosion would send my mother running back to the kitchen, racing as she quickly pulled them out before a succession broke out, slapping themselves against the walls, blowing the lid off the cast iron pan meant to hold them in. SHIT! She would yell in another word, in another language as she bolted, a chestnut bounding out of her seat, grappling the lid to the pan, often burning skin that nudged against the hot iron skillet as she hurried. We would laugh. We weren’t the ones cleaning the damn oven later.
My mother would buy chestnuts around this time of year and our fingers would hurt for days from the scratches and dents that were caused by prying them open, the corners of our nail beds sore, our skin sometimes mimicking the same bursting chestnut. The steaming meat soft and tender, so different from anything else we would indulge in throughout the year; similar to a slightly undercooked sweet potato but more like the texture and even slightly in flavour to a roasted cassava root albeit lacking the explosion that has always marked the experience for me.
In Austria and other parts of Europe where the winter is far less biting outdoor vendors sell small paper bags of the cooked jewels, a visit on my bucket list, but for now I’m told by my mother that people put them in their pockets or hold them in their hands to keep warm. Something of a pointless endeavour in Manitoba and maybe that’s why we don’t have any vendors selling them street side in the winter… Come to think of it selling anything street side in the winter in Manitoba as it seems is something that hasn’t crossed anyone’s mind. Manitobans aren’t strolling anywhere but rather running, determined to get quickly from point A to point B, hoods over their heads, scarves over their faces, hands covered in warm mitts. Perhaps if they had hot chestnuts in their pockets they would be less focused on their destination. Or perhaps even these wonderful nuts wouldn’t warm us to the point of strolling anywhere at all when the temperatures plunge beyond minus 30 degrees… Yes people that’s far colder than many Europeans have to endure lest they refused to leave their homeland.
I’m not sure if my mother didn’t know to score these nuts prior to placing them in the oven or if this is a Czech tradition that she held on to but it has become an obsolete experience in my home. I am much too lazy to spend an hour or so washing splattered meat off the inside of my oven. I am much more inclined to restrict my experience to pained fingers, eased in suffering by licking browned butter infused with rosemary, nutmeg and salt, as suggested by Bon Appétit magazine, off of them as I joyously place them in my mouth one by one, suckle the seasoned butter before cracking them then carefully and eagerly peeling and eating.
If you are so fortunate as to have an underused three season porch surrounded by frosted windows this time of year, sit close to the cold nipped glass and suckle a handful of these nuts. Or if you have a fireplace then set it ablaze and enjoy the baked and fragrant butter that transforms these nuts into a treat that is not only for the mouth but also for the nose as the nutmeg and rosemary fill your home with the aroma of winter warmth.
This post marks several ‘firsts’ for me; the first post of the year, the first time I’ve roasted chestnuts and haven’t had to spend the following hour or so cleaning the oven as a result, the first time I’ve dressed these nuts in a concoction so utterly delicious, the first time I’ve been so damned wordy in a post! I anticipate it will be a year of many more ‘firsts’ as my resolution is about creating a great many ‘firsts’ and practicing a new perspective on things that are not.
Happy New Year everyone…I hope that 2015 is filled full of many wonderful ‘firsts’ for all of you!
Rosemary Nutmeg Butter Roasted Chestnuts (as found in Bon Appétit, though slightly altered)
- 2- 3 dozen fresh chestnuts
- 1 Tablespoon rosemary (I used dried rosemary, broken and rubbed between my hands)
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- 2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
- Freshly grated nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and set a kettle of water to boil. First take the chestnuts and score an ‘X’ on each of them using a sharp knife. Once they are all scored pour hot water over them and let them soak for a minute. Lightly dry off the chestnuts and place them in a baking dish (best to have them in a single layer) where you have melted the butter. I tried to arrange mine all cut side down… better to soak up the butter or at least that’s what I was hoping. Sprinkle them with rosemary, salt and nutmeg and cover loosely with foil. I promise that they will not explode in the oven and will not force you to spend an hour cleaning same oven when you are done… 😉 Bake for about 45 minutes and then remove from the oven, push them around a little to make sure they are well buttered (Also as payback for the way they will destroy your fingers when you peel them!)
Sit back and enjoy…. maybe even with a hot cup of chocolate milk and some damn good minty marshmallows!