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Chestnuts, a specialty of the forest

Wikispanishfood.com editorial team

They were the basic foodstuff during times of famine in Mediterranean villages, and were eaten instead of bread. The fruit is enclosed in a spiny capsule with 2 or 3 compartments, and they are generally rounded and sometimes flat, with an attractive brownish-red color, depending on the variety. They are generally found in humid and temperate forests. Today, Italy and Greece are leaders in chestnut production.

PGI Castañas de Galicia

Chestnuts are available throughout almost the entire Iberian Peninsula, but those from Galicia are the most famous, and they even have their own PGI, Castañas de Galicia. Those from El Bierzo, in León, and Aliste, in Zamora, are also outstanding. De parede is the most highly-prized variety, as they are both flavorful and sweet. Excellent chestnuts are also available in the provinces of Asturias, Ávila, Salamanca, Málaga and Huelva.

There are many varieties of this fall and winter fruit, and just about all of them are interesting from a gastronomic standpoint. The most popular variety is the common, or European, chestnut, although there are other varieties with are also very abundant, such as the Chinese, Japanese and American chestnut; however, they all have a very similar composition. They are rich in carbohydrates, vitamins A and B, iron and zinc. They have the same amount of fat as grains, and water accounts for half of their weight, which makes them one of the lowest-calorie nuts available.

Over the centuries, chestnuts were a basic foodstuff in Europe, where they were eaten roasted, dried and ground into flour, until potatoes and corn became the two most frequently eaten foods as from the 16th century. At that point their fame started to wane; however, today they are eaten cooked, roasted or raw, and are probably the best accompaniment to complex recipes such as game. They are also included in some of the most brilliant dishes served around the world.

Gastronomic versatility

They can be used to make purées, creams, marmalades, sweets, and the always spectacular candied chestnut, an Italian-Swiss confection that has been considered a delicacy for years.

Many countries have festivals that celebrate this fruit, such as the Magosto in Spain, which revolves around chestnuts. Most of these festivals are held around All Saints' Day, in November, and some are organized around the first slaughters in winter and the first wines of the year. The Magosto (Magüesto in Asturias) is a very popular religious festival celebrating the deceased and held in many towns, with parties, dancing, and fireworks, and in which the chestnut always plays a leading role. Famous festivals include those in San Martiño in Ourense, in Asturias, and in Santa María del Sil, in El Bierzo, León.

A fall and winter fruit

Chestnuts are available in the market from early fall to the end of winter. When you buy them, it's important to check the state of their skin: they should be shiny, and you should store them in a cool, dry place. Raw or roasted, they keep well in the freezer for months.

In the early days of fall, when the first cold weather arrives, chestnut sellers head to cities with all of their equipment to roast chestnuts on the streets.

We recommend a few easy recipes from the book El Árbol de Pan, by Italian-Spanish chef Flavio Morganti, who heads Galician restaurant GALILEO in Santa Baia, Ourense. Highlights include fried chestnut chips, chestnut and white wine soup, Spanish omelet with chestnuts, roe deer civet with chestnuts and, for dessert, chestnut ice cream with chunks of candied chestnuts, accompanied by a little chestnut liqueur. In the same province, A REIXADORA, in Bentraces, serves a delicious meat pie made with chestnut flour, and in Derrasa, O'RUPEIRO offers chestnut and prawn croquettes. Basque chef KARLOS ARGUIÑANO prepares cannelloni with chestnut cream, and ARZAK serves chestnut soup with Ibérico pork cheek wrapped in lettuce.

ADDRESSES

GALILEO. Ctra. OU-536  km. 10,8. Tfno. 988 380 425. Santa Baia-Pereiro de Aguiar. Ourense

A REIXADORA. Ctra. Ourense 540, km. 7,3 Tfno. 988 383 078. Bentraces. Ourense www.nove.biz

O RUPEIRO. Ctra. de Trives. Km.9. Tfno. 988 380 038. Derrasa. Ourense

KARLOS ARGUIÑANO. Mendilauta, 13. Tfno 943 130 000. Zarautz. Gipuzkoa. www.hogarutil.com

ARZAK. Alto de Miracruz, Tfno. 943 278 465. San Sebastián www.arzak.info

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11/12/2014