LONDON, Ont. -- Do people actually roast chestnuts on an open fire?
Yes, says Linda Grimo of Grimo Nut Nursery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. But the easiest way to do them is on the barbecue and they're "fabulous," she says.
Nuts have been part of the holiday tradition for centuries, with both religious and pagan origins cited by various sources. Although cooks tend to incorporate them in dishes throughout the year, they are a staple of holiday entertaining. Stores carry a lot more bulk nuts in the shell and various companies produce jars of shelled nuts, already roasted and seasoned.
As for the chestnuts, which can also be cooked in the oven, on the stovetop or even in a microwave, Grimo says the most important step is to cut an X in the top of each nut before cooking. "Otherwise, they'll explode."
A slotted pan or chestnut pan, basically a long-handled frying pan with holes in the bottom, allows even heat distribution. She cooks the scored nuts over medium heat for five to 10 minutes (some recipes advise 15) and shakes the pan every minute or two to move the nuts around. That's it.
She also likes to sauté peeled chestnuts in a frying pan. If you boil them briefly first, the nuts will "pop right out" of the skin, she says. She cooks them in butter for at least 10 minutes, adding sugar to caramelize them for a sweet treat or garlic or onions if she wants to add them to vegetable or meat dishes.
Brenda Preszcator of St. Marys, Ont., has been making nuts and bolts as a holiday treat since her kids were small, and although they're now adults, it's a tradition they still insist on.
"One batch makes a big roasting pan full and sometimes I'll make four batches by Christmas if the kids (and grandkids) are all home," she says. They're a special favourite of her son Joel, who lives in Vancouver, and she sends him a supply every year. They seldom last till Christmas.
It is somewhat curious that the tradition of nuts has survived since most of the nuts consumed by Canadians are imported and available year-round.
Doug Cook, a dietitian and director of the Toronto chapter of HealthCastle.com, an online community of dietitians, says nuts are nutritious. Nutrients include unsaturated fats, vitamins E and K and minerals such as potassium, magnesium and selenium.
They "are associated with lower rates/risk of many chronic (or) degenerative diseases" such as heart disease and diabetes and help to maintain levels of good cholesterol. Cooking does not diminish their nutritive value, says Cook.
-- The Canadian Press