Chestnuts are one of my favorite things about this time of the year. Their taste and smell take me back to my childhood, when I used to spend Christmas at my grandfather’s and his siblings ranch.
My grandfather was one of thirteen kids, all second generation Brazilians. His grandparents immigrated from Italy, and they met and got married in Brazil. They worked as farmers, and had thirteen kids. My grandpa would always tell me about their struggles growing up and how happy the kids were when they got a box of apples to share among them for Christmas. But they worked very hard, and became successful not even going to college.
Long story short, all the siblings owned a ranch together. And every year, for 17 years of my life I would spend my summer vacations there. And Christmas. Me, and all the 13 siblings, their children and grandchildren. You get the picture, over 200 family members. Yep! I would spend the whole year dreaming about spending my time with my family and cousins.
And one of our favorite things to do was to walk around the orchard and pick the chestnuts that had fallen off the trees and looked ripe. They are brown when ripe, and they are encased by a spiky shell that reminds me of a Sea Urchin. After filling up a few bags with chestnuts we would take them to our grandmothers and mothers who would help us take them out of the shells and make the most delicious “Marron Glace”.
Living here in California, I can easily of Italian Chestnuts at this time of the year. I usually roast them in the oven, and it is so easy.
* With a shart pointy knife, cut a cross on the flat side of the chestnut. You don’t have to make a deep cut, cut cut slightly so when it roasts it bursts where the cut is, making it easy for you to peel them.
* Place them in a sheet pan layered with parchment paper, or use a Silpat. Place the sheet pan in a preheated oven to 400 F and roast them for 15 minutes.
If you fell adventurous and want to try my family’s Marron Glace Recipe (thank you Tia Ro):
* Just boil the chestnuts in a soft boil until they are al dente (about 30 to 40 minutes). You can also use them roasted, but the original recipe calls for boiling.
* In a medium sauce pan, make a simple syrup, using the same ratio of water to sugar, for example, 1 cup of sugar to 1 cup of water. You can use brown or raw sugar if you want to make it healthier. Let it come to a boil, put the chestnuts inside the liquid and turn it down to low. Add a few whole cloves. Let it simmer for 10 minutes, but be careful the liquid does not start to crystallize.
* Put everything in a glass container with a lid in the refrigerator. It keeps refrigerated for 1 to 2 weeks.