The Taste of Autumn: Chestnuts, Castagne and Marrons Chauds

Autumn arrives with falling leaves and when the first chestnuts appear at green grocers, I am reminded of the chorus of marrons chauds that I have often heard in the streets of Paris.

chestnuts

And it takes me back.

I am strolling along the Seine during the magical hour before sunset when street vendors pop up and sing out to passers-by who, like me, have their ears attuned to their quiet melody. I am holding the coal-roasted chestnuts in a funnelled newspaper, my fingertips blackened from peeling the skin and I am anticipating my first bite into the charred nuggets.

In Sydney, chestnut season starts from the middle of March and lasts for two to three months. While there are no street sellers as they do in France and Italy, one can easily replicate the enjoyment of chestnuts at home.

How to Roast Chestnuts

To start, pour yourself a good drop of red wine. It always helps to put you in the mood.

1. Pre-heat the griller on a low to medium heat.
2. Score the chestnuts with a sharp knife by making a slit on one side.
3. Place them under the griller and check their progress to make sure they don’t burn.
4. When the skin starts to blacken, turn them over and cook the other side.

scored chestnut

scored chestnut

A good slow roasting takes approximately 40 minutes. In the meantime, the kitchen fills with a sweet and nutty aroma as the chestnuts mellow from a tough nut into a softer edible mass.

Pour yourself another glass of red wine and enjoy the taste of autumn.

During our latest stay in Italy with relatives, we ate castagne that were roasted at home using a special chestnut roasting pan or padella per castagne. The utensil looks like any ordinary heavy steel pan but with holes cut out in the bottom.

chestnut roasting pan

chestnut roasting pan

The chestnuts are placed on top of the pan over a gas stove. The kitchen may get full of smoke but this method imparts a charred flavour that you don’t get by simply grilling them.

roasting chestnuts in panpan-roasted chestnuts

chestnuts cooked at home in a roasting pan, Mogliano Veneto, Italy

Whether I am in France or Italy, nothing matches the taste of coal-roasted chestnuts bought from street vendors. For €1.60, un etto di castagne (100 grams) also buys a lasting memory.

chestnut street vendor, Padova Italy

chestnuts cooked over hot coals, Padova, Italy

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The Taste of Autumn: Chestnuts, Castagne and Marrons Chauds was last modified: December 20th, 2015 by Corinne Mossati

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Corinne Mossati

Corinne Mossati is the Founder/Editor of popular online magazine Gourmantic and Cocktails & Bars, a website dedicated to cocktail culture and the discerning drinker. She is named in Australian Bartender Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential List, is a member of The Academy responsible for judging the World’s 50 Best Bars. She has also judged the inaugural Australasian Whisky Awards and various national cocktail competitions.

15 Comments:

  1. Great article. I love chestnuts. They’re very popular here in Korea this time of the year. You can buy them from street vendors and at all of the spring festivals.

    • Hi Nancie and welcome :) You’re fortunate to have them sold in the streets. I’m surprised they’re also available in spring!

  2. Mmm. Chestnuts remind me so much of autumn and winter too! But also of Macau – one of my fondest memories is the smell of roasting chestnuts on coal in Macau. *sigh* takes me back :)

    • Forager: Macau! I wonder if it’s the Portuguese influence that has taken there. Such an interesting place to visit. We enjoyed it there very much.

  3. how VERY cool. i love the photos – and you’ve made me HUNGRY!

  4. Thank you for the fun how to. So popular in Japan in the fall; so Christmassy in the US! One of the best smells ever.

  5. My question is, how do you get the shell off whilst it’s still hot without taking a layer of skin off ?  If you wait for them to cool, they become crumbly and harder to dislodge from the shell but when piping hot, you can get them out whole.  I have tried gloves but it makes it harder to peel.  Any tips (to save the tips of my fingers!!!) ?

    • Frank, my trick is to only roast a small number of chestnuts They’re easier to peel when they’re warm, and if they’re too hot, I try doing it in a paper towel. But sometimes, the pain is worth getting a warm nugget out whole! Another tip: the red wine helps! :)

  6. You know,  I have never had a roasted chestnut and never considered it beyond in the songs – what a fun post.  I am thoroughly intrigued now and can’t wait to get an opportunity to roast some!

    • Shannon, really? While eating them is fun, roasting them through any method adds to the enjoyment. Red wine as well :)

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  8. Would it have been altogether impossible to find chestnut vendors in Paris in the first week of April 1955? I remember the experience quite clearly, though it’s possible I have time-shifted a later visit. Blue skies! — Dan Ford

    • Hi Dan – I’d like to think many things are possible in Paris, including a time shift in one’s mind… Thank you for your comment.

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