Ingredient Spotlight: Chestnuts
Where do they come from?
When on the tree, chestnuts look like thorny green pom-poms. Once they're harvested, the husks fall off to reveal a smooth brown shell—that's how you'll find them in stores. As soon as chestnuts bare their glossy chests, they begin to dry out, so give each nut a shake. Don't buy any that rattle because the nut is likely shriveled.
How do they taste?
When they're raw, chestnuts are crunchy and a little bitter. Once cooked, they're sweet, slightly nutty, and creamy.
OK, so how do I roast them?
Using a sharp paring knife, carefully cut a 1/2-inch X into the rounded side of each shell. (This will help steam escape, making the nuts easier to peel.) Then soak chestnuts in hot water for 1 minute, toss with oil and salt, wrap in foil, and bake at 350° until the nuts soften, about 25 minutes.
A fungus wiped out millions of American chestnut trees more than a century ago, so you'll mostly buy nuts imported from Italy or China.