Il Castagno dei Cento Cavalli (Chestnut of 100 Horses) on the eastern slope of Mount Etna in Sicily is the oldest known chestnut in the world, estimated to be between 2000-4000 years old! The tree's name comes from a legend about The Queen of Aragon and her army of one hundred knights being able to take shelter under the massive tree during a severe storm. In the 1700s its then intact trunk measured almost 200 feet around. Today, the tree's trunk is split into several different sections, but all are growing from the same roots and are still alive.
Chestnuts are used in many different ways: milled into flour for bread (long lasting!), cakes, pastas or polenta; to thicken soups and sauces; to make fritelli (fritters); candied or pureed and sweetened for desserts or as spreads; as an element of stuffing for turkey or goose; as a substitute for potatoes in stews; Tuscan chestnut cake; and in as a Montebianco dessert in Italy.
- Preheat your oven to 425F
- Cut the Xs in the chestnuts (use a very sharp knife, but be careful) on the rounded side.
- Using a large stock pot, fill with enough water to cover the amount of chestnuts you are going to roast, and then add 1/3 cup sugar, 3 tablespoons salt and 4 dashes of nutmeg.
- Add your chestnuts to the pot and bring to a boil. Shut the heat off after coming to a boil and remove from the heat and let sit another 5-10 minutes.
- Drain the chestnuts and lay them out onto some paper towels or a cotton kitchen towel. Pat them dry.
- Next, put them in a large bakers/half sheet pan (not a dark pan). Arrange them so their cut sides are facing up.
- Sprinkle some sugar and cinnamon or course salt on them before baking (or both, your choice--salty-sweet taste is "in" lately).
- Roast for a 30 minutes in the middle of the oven. If it looks like they are browning too fast after the first 15 minutes or so, you can lay a foil sheet loosely over the top.
- The flesh should look golden brown when done and the skin should be curling open.
Of course, chestnuts need to be eaten right away--as soon as you can touch them without burning your fingers. (Ouch). Peel. Eat. Peel a tangerine to go along with them. Sip some Amarreto.
Buon Giorno del Ringraziamento a tutti! (Happy Thanksgiving, that is.)
e Buon Natale! (Merry Christmas, too!)