The Incredible, Gluten-free, Nutrient-packed Chestnut

Italians love their chestnuts. And it’s really no wonder.

Chestnuts have been a staple food in Italy for thousands of years. The ancient  Romans even planted chestnut forests to sustain their legions of soldiers on lengthy campaigns, of which (of course) there were many.

It’s actually an amazing, versatile nut, the chestnut. It can be boiled, roasted, baked or ground into flour. It’s used in savory stuffings, decadent desserts and, yes, roasted plain on an open fire.

castagna 3A few weeks ago, my husband, Lou, and I gathered chestnuts on Mount Amiata, a long-dormant volcanic mountain in southern Tuscany. Ancient chestnut forests abound on the spectacular slopes of Mt. Amiata, and just a drive along the twisting, turning roads is a visual treat. Thick majestic trunks with severely pruned canopies (all the better for producing and harvesting chestnuts) stand silently on bright green carpets of winter grass, blanketed here and there with large brown leaves that have fallen from the trees.

castagna 4What a beautiful setting in which to gather these incredible nuts. And incredible they are – with a lengthy list of health benefits!

  • Chestnuts are higher in starch than other nuts, but are a good source of dietary fiber – a key factor in lowering cholesterol levels.
  • Chestnuts are rich in folates. (Folic acid is needed for the formation of red blood cells.)
  • Chestnuts are a great source of mono-unsaturated fat – the good kind that improves blood lipid profiles.
  • Chestnuts are a great source of minerals, such as iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium.
  • Chestnuts are rich in many B-complex vitamins.
  • Chestnuts are rich in vitamin C – an important anti-oxidant
  • Chestnuts are free of gluten, so chestnut flour is an excellent choice for those of us who eat gluten free.

castagna 6One of my favorite ways to enjoy this nutrient-packed nut is roasted over a wood fire, and since the BBQ on our terrace in Italy is designed for wood-fire roasting and grilling, my husband and I love to sit outside on chilly evenings huddled close to the fire roasting chestnuts. (Often with a glass of red wine in hand.)

castagna 5Of course, you don’t have to live in Italy to enjoy chestnuts. It’s likely that they’re readily available at local grocery store – particularly in the autumn/winter months. Plus, you can easily roast them in the oven, as well. (Just be sure to score them with a knife first so that they don’t burst when you heat them!)

Snuggled up close, nibbling steaming hot chestnuts on a cold winter night with someone you love. Healthy, sure. Romantic, absolutely.

(To view my 10 favorite ways to enjoy chestnuts, click here!)

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Pamela HaackPamela Haack is an author, specialized travel consultant and founder of Off the Beaten Strada where she creates and hosts custom retreats in central Italy for travelers who wish to be immersed in the history, culture and traditions of the region.

Get your FREE copy of Pamela’s Italy Trip Planning Tips, plus her FREE Off the Beaten Strada ezine filled with recipes, regional stories, practical travel tips and news from off the beaten strada in the heart of Italy. Click here.

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