Certain foods proclaim Fall is here. It seems that it's only after frost first appears on the pumpkin that fresh chestuts appear in the markets.
I've been a fan of chestnuts for years in stuffing and in pies and puddings, but the best way to eat chestnuts is the simplest - roasted.
I know I'd had chestnuts before this time, but my favorite memory of eating roasted chestnuts was when I was visiting Meg (of this very blog) in Paris one February many years ago. She'd been showing me the sights of the city and we'd walked ourselves all over town.
Exiting the Louvre, we each bought a bag of chestnuts off a street cart vendor who was keeping them hot in an enormous funnel shaped iron roaster on wheels. We tried to peel and eat the things without burning our fingers in the grey of a drizzly Paris afternoon, but I think I ended up with some pretty sore fingers.
It was chilly but very bright and Sunday when I fired up the grill again this weekend to roast a batch of beautiful chestnuts I picked up at the Lotte Asian Market in Ellicott City on Sunday. I've read recipes where one boils the chestnuts before roasting to get the nuts to cook more evenly and make them come out of the shells more easily, but I like the challenge.
If you've never tried roasted chestnuts, you're missing out. Chestnuts have a meaty texture, capped with a sweetness you don't find in other nuts. They don't need salt or sugar or spices, though you can certainly scrape the meat out of chestnut shells and use it in recipes. They go into pies and pair with pork especially well.
To prepare the chestnuts, first rinse them and pat them dry, then cut an x on the flat side of each chestnut with a sharp knife. Make the cut shallow, but make sure you make it through the tough outer shell of the nut.
I used a chimney to get the fire started on my grill, adding more coals after it was going to ensure long-lasting heat. A big cast iron skillet held the chestnuts which not only roasted, but which benefitted from the smoke from the charcoal. About 20-25 minutes after the fire had started, my chestnuts were roasted, and I was reliving the bag of chestnuts I'd enjoyed outside the Louvre many years ago.