You’ve heard Nat King Cole sing about them about a thousand times. But if you’re like me, chestnuts were a nice Christmas-sy idea, much like sugar plums. I had never seen, smelled, or tasted an actual chestnut… until I came to Spain. But they are crazy for castañas over here.
Chestnut season kicks off during the first week of November. Vendors pop up all over city streets. They are available to purchase raw, by the kilo, at just about every food market. At our school, the kids colored and cut out pictures of chestnuts to hang in the hallway (with “This is my chestnut” written on them in English) and excitement was building for Chestnut Day. The kids made paper cones to hold their portions out of clean recycled paper from the classroom (one of many examples of Spain being super environmentally conscious).
On the day of, a mouth-watering smoky aroma wafted through the school. After a moment of confusion, I remembered today was the day! During their recess, the kids joyfully poured out onto the patio where parent volunteers had set up stations for juice and snacks and piled leaves for the kids to jump in (a special treat for those who live in a city where the trees don’t really lose their leaves). On one end of the patio, our school security guard Luis was stirring up a big ol’ pan of the goods.
Like many things, the best flavor is brought out when chestnuts are slow-roasted… but when you’re trying to crank out enough for an entire primary school that’s not exactly feasible. Still, they were yummy! To remove the flaky, charred outer layer, the trick is in the twist, as Danielle demonstrates above. They are very starchy; after the initial bite, their texture transforms into something like a baked Russet potato, and the flavor is only mildly nutty.
Chestnuts, like many of their nutty brothers and sisters, boast an impressive profile of micronutrients (vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, and calcium) and unsaturated fats, which make them a relatively calorically dense snack at 21 calories a pop. However, unlike their nut cousins, they don’t have much protein to offer, so stick to the almonds for your afternoon pick-me-up.
If you’ve never tried a roasted chestnut I’d definitely recommend it if you get the chance to this holiday season!
¡Feliz Navidad y Feliz Año Nuevo!