One of the best aspects of living abroad is getting to experience new foods. A couple weekends ago, my host mom’s cousins, Evano and Gabri, invited us to go chestnut hunting. So, we loaded up the car and drove to a forest in Northern Italy.
It was a rainy day which made chestnut hunting seem even more adventurous! Having never seen a wild chestnut before, I was surprised by the appearance. I had no idea they grew in spiny burrs. I could have mistaken them for sea urchins! Everyone told me that we were very lucky because we found so many; everywhere we looked, we saw chestnuts! Another interesting thing about chestnuts is that they are only ripe when then fall to the ground. So, instead of picking them off the tree, you have to search through leaves and look near rocks to find them.
I was so enthralled by the appearance that I kept taking pictures of them. Finally, my host dad, Marco, said I needed to do less photography and more chestnut hunting! He taught me to use a small stick to get the chestnuts out of the burrs without poking my fingers. You have to open the burrs using a stick and perhaps your tennis shoe as well until the opening is wide enough to reach in a grab the chestnuts. The most common number of chestnuts that I found per burr was three. However, there can be as little as one or as many as seven. To my surprise, I found more than just chestnuts. I stumbled upon a toad that was hiding under a rock! The kids and I did not want to get near it so, of course, Marco picked it up and tried to make us kiss it!
While Evano started the fire, we drank wine and nibbled on gluten-free focaccia bread and salami. My host family said if my parents knew that we were having a party in the rain they would tell me to come back to America instantly. I reassured them that if my family was in Italy, they would be very happy to join in on the fun. Actually, the whole day reminded me of my summers in Montana when we go Huckleberry picking in the forest. I think scavenging for wild food is one of my very favorite activities because you get to be out in nature with family and friends and then at the end of the day you get to enjoy the food you found. What could be more lovely than that?
Here, the girls are scoring the chestnuts before they are roasted. This can be done by making a small slit in the side of each chestnut with a small knife. If you forget to score the chestnuts, they will explode over the fire. Although this sounds entirely exciting, it could be dangerous and it would be a shame to waste even one chestnut!
Roasting our wild chestnuts over an open fire while drinking wine was a delight. I also appreciated the warmth it provided. Our chestnuts only took about ten minutes to cook because Evano created a great fire. You know they are done when the shells turn black and peel easily.
Don’t they look delectable? I couldn’t stop eating them! I’ll blame it on the fresh air and all the energy I expended while hunting for them. Thank goodness they are a perfect treat for people with celiac disease. Chestnuts, or castagna, as they are called in Italian, are low in fat and have a higher starch content, making them more similar to dried fruit rather than nuts. They have a firm yet slightly crumbly texture and a sweet, delicate flavor. Personally, I would compare the flavor to that of a roasted yellow sweet potato. Interestingly, they are the only nut that contains vitamin C! Since they contain fiber, they are considered a complex carbohydrate which means they digest slowly giving stable energy and blood sugar levels. A one ounce serving provides 106 calories, 1.3 grams of fat, 22 grams of carbohydrates, and 1.8 grams of protein. They also contain small amounts of riboflavin, thiamin, magnesium and phosphorous which are all vitamins and minerals that people with celiac disease tend to have difficulties absorbing. Just another reason to enjoy eating chestnuts!
Later, I made chestnut risotto for dinner. If you like chestnuts and and you like risotto, then chestnut risotto is an absolute treat. If you don’t have fresh chestnuts, not to worry. You can easily substitute canned or frozen chestnuts. Just make sure they are unsweetened.
- 1 cup Arborio rice
- 4 quarts vegetable, chicken or beef stock (preferably homemade)
- 1 onion, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 stalk celery, minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 tablespoons white wine (optional)
- 2-3 sage leaves
- ½ cup chestnuts roasted, shelled halved
- Parmigiano Reggiano (optional)
- Cut a small slit in each chestnut and add to a medium saute pan. Roast until the shells peel easily; about ten minutes.
- Meanwhile, in large sauté pan, add the oil, onion, garlic, and celery. Cook until translucent.
- Add rice and cook until the edges look clear.
- Add the wine and cook until all is absorbed.
- Add the stock, a little at a time, cook until absorbed, stirring constantly, then add more. Repeat until all stock is gone.
- Rice should be creamy and smooth.
- Finish with chestnuts.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Garnish with Parmigiano Reggiano, if desired.
Green liked chestnut hunting too! As always, we send you LOVE and PEACE without grease!
XO, The Glisten Girls