Holiday Obsessions: Clementines and Chestnuts
Black Friday is just 5 days away, and while the rest of the country gets ready to stampede through shopping malls to pick up this year’s must-have what-have-you’s, I’m doing some stockpiling of my own at the local supermarket. For the next six weeks or so, the once-a-year, get-em-while-they-last inventories of two of my most favorite winter treats are well-stocked and ready to be eaten. I’m talking about sweet, sunny and seedless Clementines by the crateful, and barrels of sweet, starchy fresh Chestnuts ready to be roasted.
In a season where centerfolds of over-the-top seasonal desserts beckon me from every glossy foodie magazine I encounter, there’s a lot to be said for finishing off a festive holiday gathering with communal bowls of clementines and chestnuts instead. When the dinner plates are cleared and friends linger around the table over tea or wine, I find that slowly peeling away at a clementine or fresh chestnut is a calming ritual of sorts, preventing idle hands that might otherwise be tempted to make quick work of, say, an entire gooey pecan pie. Both of these low calorie treats finish off the meal with a hint of sweetness and lend themselves to being enjoyed slowly and shared among friends.
My Darling Clementines
Clementines are seedless citrus fruits related to mandarin oranges and grown mostly in Spain and Morocco (though increasingly, I’m seeing Clementines grown in Florida and California being sold alongside the imports). Their appeal starts from the moment you effortlessly peel off their loose skins without encountering any sort of sticky mess…it continues on as you peel off segment after segment… and it culminates with that happy little burst of sweetness in your mouth. Eaten segment by segment, you can savor one little clementine slowly, thus drawing out the pleasure of post-dinner pecking that much longer.
One clementine has about 35 calories, 9g of carbohydrate (of which 1g is fiber) and 60% of the daily value for Vitamin C. (2 clementines would be the equivalent of one fruit serving). Which means that even when you reach for that third, fourth and fifth clementine, ’tis no reason for guilt. (The same cannot be said with respect to bites of pecan pie.)
How to choose, roast and eat fresh chestnuts
Before I met my husband, roasting fresh chestnuts was something that I thought only happened in Christmas carols. But he taught me the fine art of choosing the best chestnuts…
- squeeze fresh chestnuts before buying and and select ones that are nice and hard
- any softness or “give” means they’re not fresh and will be impossible to peel once you’ve roasted them
… and roasting fresh chestnuts:
- score a small “x” on the flat side with a paring knife (a MUST… this allows steam to escape and prevents a chestnut explosion in your oven)
- lay them score side up on a baking tray
- sprinkle them lightly with water
- bake them at 400 degrees in a toaster oven or 425 degrees in a conventional oven for 10-15 minutes
- Note that roasting times will vary by oven; look for the scores to start curling back as an indication that the chestnuts are done. Alternatively, you can take one out and test its done-ness by carefully peeling it (use a dishtowel or gloves…it’ll be hot!) and seeing if the nutmeat is nice and soft.
… and eating fresh chestnuts:
- just peel off the hard outer shell from the open flaps created by your x-shaped scores–while they’re still warm. (Get cracking on the peeling as soon as they’ve cooled just enough to handle.)
If you want a demo of the process described above–or just a voyeuristic peek at the man who roasts my chestnuts and invented the Chana Saag recipe you all know and love– Alex prepared this handy little tutorial video for you:
I’ve written before about the unique nutritional composition of chestnuts (and chestnut flour), which are technically tree nuts but have swapped the characteristic fat of tree nuts for starch instead. As a result, they’re much lower in calories, ounce for ounce. If you haven’t had the pleasure of tasting a fresh-roasted chestnut, they’re sweet and slightly nutty with a soft and sometimes crumbly texture. One ounce of roasted chestnuts (about 3 chestnuts) have about 70 calories, 15g of carbohydrate (one diabetic exchange), of which 1.5g is fiber, 1g of protein and <1g fat. It also has 12% of the daily value for vitamin C, which makes it quite an oddity in the nut world.
As we enter into the crazed pre-holiday shopping period, I urge you not to omit these edible must-haves from your list. By the time you’re scooping up deeply-discounted leftovers from distressed holiday retailers on December 26, these annual gems will already be in short supply. And unlike this year’s Zhu Zhu pet that will soon wind up on the bottom of the toy box along with last year’s Tickle Me Elmo, the memory of happy times spent with friends and family in a room perfumed with the scent of roasting chestnuts and citrusy clementines is sure to be treasured all year long. (Of course, if my friends and family were to buy me a Wii Fit for Hannukah, I’d treasure that all year long, too. I swear.)Did you like this? If so, please bookmark it, RSS feed.