Chestnut

The song lyric, “chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” is iconic. So, it’s surprising that the chestnut hasn’t achieved more popularity. While the taste of fresh chestnuts is known among people who’ve immigrated to the U.S. (the chestnut is quite popular in Asian countries and some European countries), I’d wager many people have never even tasted a chestnut.

And, sadly, the people who have, most likely have only tasted the lackluster imported (aka not so fresh) chestnut. But luckily for all of us chestnut-curious people, and aficionados alike, it is fresh chestnut season! There are local chestnut orchards that provide fresh nuts to communities and ship to specialty stores in the U.S.

One such farm is Chestnut Charlie’s, located in Lawrence, Kansas. Charlie NovoGradac, along with his wife, Deborah Milks, started growing chestnut trees in 1995 on North Lawrence land.

NovoGradac’s orchard has always been organic (certified by the Midwest Organic Services). Through using sustainable, pesticide-free farming practices, NovoGradac has seen much success and although the Midwest experienced a substantial, sustained drought this year, his trees produced a fair chestnut crop. The couple harvests the crop along with paid help from the community every year, and recently wrapped up harvesting for the 2012 season.

So, if you decide to purchase chestnuts this year (remember: go organic and local if possible), what can you make with the nut? Here is one tasty recipe (and a link to a few others) on how to use the gluten-free, low-fat chestnut:

Classic Chestnut Soup with Marsala Mushrooms (via Chestnut Charlie)

Ingredients

3 tbs butter or vegan margarine
1 bay leaf                      
1 medium onion, diced (1 cup)           
1 tbs fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried + 2 tbs chopped fresh thyme leaves for garnish
1 celery stalk, diced (1/2 cup)            
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1 carrot, sliced                                
2 1/2 cups fresh peeled chestnuts    
4 cups vegetable broth
2 tbs marsala wine                              
1/2 heavy cream or vegan alternative

Method

“To make soup: melt better in large pot over medium heat. Add vegetables and spices, cook 5-7 minutes or until the onion is translucent. Add chestnuts, broth, 2 cups water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium–low, cover and simmer 20-25 minutes or until chestnuts are very soft. Remove bay leaf.

Puree soup in batches in blender until smooth.  Return to pot and stir in marsala wine and cream.

To make mushrooms: heat 1 tbs butter & 1 clove minced garlic in skillet.  Add 8 oz sliced mushrooms (cremini or button) and cook until mushrooms are soft.  Add 2-3 Tbs marsala wine and cook 1 minute more.

Season soup with salt and pepper and ladle into bowls.  Garnish servings with mushrooms and fresh thyme leaves.”

To find other places that sell chestnuts, do a general Google search, or try searching LocalHarvest.org’s database.

Image: Valters Krontals