One of the sublime Italian accompaniments to meats and cheeses is mostarda, whole fruits preserved in simple syrup and spicy mustard. For a seasonal touch, this recipe uses chestnuts rather than fruits. Although not as good as freshly roasted chestnuts, packaged chestnuts can be substituted here.
For roasting, it might help to use a vegetable basket or chestnut roaster. For alternate methods of roasting the chestnuts, see VARIATIONS, below.
Make Ahead: Honeyed chestnuts are best eaten the same day they are made. But they will keep at room temperature, covered, for up to 1 week.
Servings: 4 - 6
Yield: Makes about 1 1/2 cups
- 15 fresh chestnuts (may substitute store-bought cooked chestnuts)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- One 3-inch strip orange peel (no pith)
- 1/2 teaspoon powdered mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
- 1 tablespoon orange honey
- Scrapings from 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
- Pinch fine sea salt
Prepare the charcoal grill for direct heat: Light the charcoal. When the briquettes are ready, distribute them evenly under the cooking area. For a medium-hot fire, you should be able to hold your hand about 6 inches above the coals for about 5 or 6 seconds.
Rinse the chestnuts. Use a sharp paring knife or, better yet, a serrated knife to score an "X" in the rounded side of each chestnut.
When the fire is ready, place the chestnuts cut side down directly over the fire. If you’re using a vegetable basket or chestnut popper, place the chestnuts cut side down in the basket/popper and set it over the fire. Close the lid.
Cook for about 20 minutes or until the shell begins to scorch and pull away from the nut and the meat turns golden. Watch the chestnuts closely; depending on the heat of your fire, they could be done in as little as 10 minutes. It’s fine if they are a little blackened, but you don’t want coallike nuggets.
Remove the chestnuts from the grill. Once they’re cool enough to handle, peel the chestnuts. They’re easier to peel when they’re warm.
Combine the sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once the water starts to bubble at the edges, stir to make sure the sugar has dissolved, then add the chestnuts, orange peel, powdered mustard and Dijon-style mustard. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally and reducing the heat to medium-low as needed so the mixture does not scorch. Discard the orange peel.
Transfer the chestnuts and 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid to a blender, removing the center knob in the lid and placing a paper towel over the opening (to allow steam to escape and prevent a splash-up); pulse to coarsely chop. (Discard the remaining cooking liquid.)
Transfer the mixture to a bowl; add the honey, scrapings of the vanilla bean, the bean itself and the salt; stir to incorporate. Cool to room temperature; discard the vanilla bean just before serving.
VARIATIONS: To roast chestnuts in the fireplace, wrap the scored chestnuts in an aluminum foil packet. Carefully place the packet in a medium-size fire; roast for about 15 minutes. Open the packet; when the chestnuts are just cool enough to handle but still warm, peel them. To roast them in the oven, arrange the scored chestnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast in a 425-degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Cool till warm, then peel.
From Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin; based on a recipe in the December 2009 issue of La Cucina Italiana magazine.
Tested by Jeff Donald.
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