"Chestnuts roasting on an open fire" is the first step of my favorite Brussels sprouts recipe.
Local chestnuts, now in season, grow in southern Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri and are smaller than the European varieties grown in California. Ours are sweet and creamy and well worth the little work it takes to prepare them.
To fire-roast chestnuts, score the flat part of the nut with an X and then set at the edge of a burning hearth. (Lore has it that if a chestnut pops open while roasting, you have to kiss the person sitting next to you.) When the shells curl back, move the chestnuts away from the heat and allow them to cool. When cooled, peel away the leathery skin and enjoy them with a glass of sweet dessert wine or a cup of tea.
You can also roast chestnuts in the oven (see recipe) and, if you don't feel like fussing, you can find prepared and packaged chestnuts in most grocery stores and online.
Local chestnuts are only available for a short time at local co-ops, in the bulk aisle of the produce section. Choose chestnuts with smooth, firm shells that are small but feel heavy. (The larger, European varieties tend to be more starchy than sweet.)
Store raw, unpeeled chestnuts in brown paper bags in the crisper section of the refrigerator, not in plastic bags that trap moisture; they'll keep for about three weeks. Roasted and shelled chestnuts are best kept in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to a week or in the freezer.
Roasted chestnuts pair nicely with roasted Brussels sprouts, balancing their slightly bitter edge. Or try them with other wintry vegetables such as roasted squash, beets and turnips. My grandmother tossed them into her holiday stuffing and wild rice pilaf.
Be sure to roast a few extra for yourself, a busy cook's treat.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Chestnuts
Serves 4 to 6.
Note: Once the chestnuts are roasted, wrap them in a heavy towel to trap the steam as they cool. This loosens the shell, making them easier to peel. Store roasted, peeled fresh chestnuts in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. From Beth Dooley.
• 1 lb. chestnuts
• 1 1/2 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed
• 1/4 c. olive oil, divided
• Pinch coarse salt
• 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
• 1 tbsp. maple syrup
• Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using a sharp knife, score the flat sides of the chestnuts with an X. Scatter over a baking sheet and roast until the shell peels back, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove and wrap the chestnuts in a heavy dish towel to steam while they cool. Then, peel away the leathery shells.
While the chestnuts are cooling, halve the larger Brussels sprouts and toss them all with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil to coat. Scatter on a baking sheet, sprinkle with coarse salt and roast, shaking the pan occasionally, until they become tender and turn brown at the edges, about 10 minutes.
In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil with the balsamic vinegar and syrup.
Toss the prepared chestnuts onto the pan with the roasted Brussels sprouts, drizzle the oil-balsamic mixture over all and toss to coat. Return to the oven to glaze, about 3 minutes. Season with the ground pepper. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Beth Dooley is the author of "In Winter's Kitchen." Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.