Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack Frost nipping on your nose,
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir,
And folks dressed up like Eskimos...”
There is really something so very magical about the last month of the year. I am not as busy as everyone else. Neither I do not have many gifts to buy, nor do I have family here whom we can meet and spend time with. But I still look forward to this time with all my heart and might; wish that I can wrap my fingers around that warm cup and sit by the window to see the soft snow flakes come down and gently blanket the earth. I also wait for the smell of that crackling fire, the lights twinkling on our Christmas tree and the kids running around trying to find the elf when they wake up in the morning.
It is picture I have always painted for myself, as if right out of the pages of books I would read; dreaming of the miles of undisturbed snow and shiny red berries, wreaths and candy canes, a family to love and girls to treasure and I am grateful to be alive to see my dream come to life!
with a sharp knife, make sharp incisions on the shell
drop them in boiling water and then strain them.
We celebrated Christmas at home while I was little: we had a Christmas tree and some streamers and adornments around the house and walked down the festive, shimmering with light Park Street of Kolkata a million times. We went to the church campus with my grandparents to get gifts from Santa and earnestly waited for the the midnight carols. This was probably my favorite part of the Christmas time besides the food cooked by my grandma. I loved waking up at the wee hours of the night on the Christmas eve when I could hear them approaching, while sleep still laced my eyes. With the first knock I was already by the door letting them walk in with merry music and notes.
I sat on the chair, all wrapped up in blanket listening to them. They always spend extra time in our home. Dida – my maternal grandma would have spent the day cooking up treats for them; rose cookies, plain cookies, fruit cakes and so much more. Then there was not tea. This was the most treasured tradition of all.
I am new to chestnuts. My early years of Christmas holidays were intertwined with carols, plum cakes and midnight baking, kosha mangsho and mishti pulao (spicy meat with fragrant rice topped with caramelized onions and raisins), going to the church in our pretty outfits with family and the fun of acting out scenes of the birth of Jesus Christ. Now I have slowly come embrace everything that this country has to offer during this time. Snow and mistletoe, tall Christmas trees like I could have never dreamed of before, lush red velvet and whimsical light, malls turned into fairyland, the hustle of shopping and piles of wrapped gifts and the warmth and the love I have received and reciprocated. I have met the snow on the pine trees and see the postcards that I used to save come to life.
I have also been introduced to chestnuts. Which I must say reminds me of roasted jackfruit seeds every time I pop one in my mouth. The flavors are so close even if they belong to trees not even close enough to compare.
There is comfort in roasting chestnuts on a cold and frosty day just like there was comfort in frying rose cookies with my Dida. I sat by the stove watching her as the flames warmed my cold hands. Across the seven seas and many lands, the feelings do not change even if they are aroused by different activities. The holiday spirits invade the earth where ever we are. These special feelings seem to be reserved only for this time of the season.
Chestnuts also remind of the times we would give “adda” – the long hours of doing nothing but chatting with friends with innumerable paper cones full of roasted peanuts. The shells would pile up on one side and the nuts made us full.
It is just probably way to link my past with the present.
(This post was meant to be up on the blog before Christmas. Obviously I am late, very late! However that does not change anything, does it? We will have another Christmas this year!)
Rosemary Roasted Chestnuts
- fresh chestnuts, about 6-8 per person or however many you want
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- cooking spray or a drizzle of olive oil - just enough to let the salt and pepper stick to the shells while baking
- sprigs of fresh rosemary
****Note: Look for fresh chestnuts with unwrinkled shells and a shiny surface without dents or holes. Fresh nuts are heavier. The older nuts will feel dried up and light. If the nuts float when placed in a bowl of water, they are probably not good and are mouldy inside.
Pre heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Rinse chestnuts, and dry them with a towel. Place each one of them on a cutting board, flat side down. Use a serrated knife to cut a slit or a cross (X) in the shell across the top. This is necessary process so they don’t explode from steam buildup while roasting. Repeat with all the chestnuts.
Place in a saucepan, cover with water, add salt and a few sprigs of rosemary (save the rest) and bring to a boil. Once water has boiled, add the chestnut, switch off the heat and cover and let them sit in the hot water for about 15 minutes. Drain and transfer to a roasting pan; spray a light layer of oil and then sprinkle sea salt and pepper and toss. Crush rosemary sprigs and lace the chestnuts with them. Bake for 30- 35 minutes. While baking, shake pan several times to rotate chestnuts so they will cook evenly.
Remove from oven, the chestnut shells should have opened up. Cover with a towel and set aside for about 10 minutes, allowing the chestnuts to steam. Peel roasted chestnuts as soon as they are cool enough to handle. Once they cool completely, they are difficult to peel. Remove shell and the fuzzy inside to reveal the roasted yellowish nuts.
Enjoy warm rosemary scented chestnuts.
On the stove top or grill: If you have a small amount of chestnuts like I did, you can roast them on the stove top too. Place the nuts over a flame-tamer and cover with a deep lid. Roast over low heat until done, about 10-12 minutes, turning often to cook evenly. Remove when the shell starts to open up.
If you are roasting over open fire: Use cast iron pan and heat the pan on glowing coals. Place nuts on the pan and toss them every few minutes. They should be done in a about 10 – 12 minutes.
Preparation Time: Less than 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 30-40 minutes
Difficulty Level: Easy
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