“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love” —Hamilton Wright Mabie
One of the many joys of cooking during the holiday season is experimenting with new ingredients to create delicious healthy recipes. Imagine my delight when a dear friend recently cooked chestnuts with me, a relatively new ingredient for my repertoire.
“You’ve never tried them?” he said in disbelief.
“Well maybe once years ago,” I responded. “I think I remember them being kind of mealy.”
“Try them again, they’re really delicious,” he insisted.
So because I love my friend, next thing I knew, we were cutting a small cross into each chestnut, placing them flat side down in a sturdy baking pan and sprinkling them with water. Into the oven they went at 400 degrees and 35 minutes later I was peeling back the shiny brown shells, revealing warm, golden hued nuggets that hardly tasted mealy, but in fact, were wonderfully creamy textured and completely unique.
Chestnut trees flourished in the United States in the 1800’s, but in 1904, a blight descended upon chestnut trees at the Bronx Zoo and the resulting scourge eliminated most of the trees nationwide. The majority of the chestnuts found in our supermarkets today are imported from Italy. There is, however, a marvelous mail order option right here in our country. Girolami Farms, located in Stockton, Calif., raises the highest quality and largest chestnuts available on the market. You can learn more about their wonderful harvest by going to www.chestnutsforsale.com.
I was thrilled to discover from the good people at Girolami Farms that chestnuts have significant health benefits. Unlike other nuts, chestnuts contain only a trace amount of fat. Chestnuts are the only nut that contain a high Vitamin C content. Chestnuts also offer high fiber, complex carbohydrate and folic acid content, as well as being cholesterol-free and gluten-free. Their distinctive flavor will enhance soups, stuffing, desserts or vegetable dishes.
If you purchase chestnuts at your local market, choose chestnuts that are plump, glossy and a dark, rich color. Press on the nut and if there is a solid feeling with no give, you have a nice, fresh nut. Your chestnuts should be stored in the refrigerator as they are perishable and can dry out.
Ring in the holiday season with a healthy handful of chestnuts and love a new way to prepare a delicious life.
Enjoy this stuffing with roast chicken for an elegant holiday season meal
1/2 pound sweet chicken or pork sausage, crumbled
3 large shallots, chopped
2 celery stalks chopped
1-1/4 cups dried cranberries, cherries or chopped figs
1 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons applejack brandy (optional)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried sage
4 cups fresh breadcrumbs
1 1/2 cups peeled, roasted chestnuts, coarsely chopped
Butter an 8x8x2 glass baking dish. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sautee sausage in a heavy skillet until well browned. Add shallots and celery and sauté for five-10 minutes until softened. Stir in dried fruit, 1/2 cup chicken broth, brandy if using, thyme and sage and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until dried fruit is soft and tender.
Mix breadcrumbs, chestnuts and the sausage mixture together in a bowl. Stir in remaining chicken broth. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place stuffing in baking dish. Cover with foil. Bake stuffing for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until top browns, about 10-15 minutes longer.
Robin Glowa, HHC, AADP is a passionate food and wellness professional, who earned a certificate in holistic health counseling from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and Columbia University Teacher’s College. She specializes in teaching healthy cooking classes to children and adults utilizing fresh, natural ingredients and super simple, delicious recipes. She also conducts workshops and classes for many local organizations. For more information go to www.theconsciouscook.net. Robin’s blog is www.confessionsofaconsciouscook.blogspot.com.