Sometimes I can't understand how something that (once peeled) looks so positively like Gordon Ramsay's forehead can taste so utterly delicious!
In Austria, the only way to eat chestnuts is to buy them from one of the many street vendors, we don't really do turkeys and therefore no chestnut stuffing.
The "Maronibrater" stalls pop up on every corner as soon as temperatures approach zero (Celsius, that is). They make a fire in large steel drums that look quite beaten, probably having seen many a winter come and go over the decades - with a roasting pan on top, where they nowadays not only roast the traditional chestnuts, but also chunky slices of potatoes. Their history apparently goes back to Austria's great Empress Maria Theresia (1717 - 1780) who allowed the Slovenian minority in Vienna to set up as itinerant chestnut roasters during the cold winter months - to this date, there are about 200 of them registered in Vienna only, the majority still of Slovenian descent.
I find them to be a godsend when you're walking around the streets of Vienna in the freezing cold - there's nothing better than buying a half-dozen chestnuts straight from the oven, not only are they deliciously sweet and nutty, they also keep your hands warm as you juggle them around until they've cooled enough to be peeled without burning yourself.
Last weekend, I tried something different with them - I saw them skewered up as table decoration somewhere and immediately liked this unusual idea of a seasonal finger food. Since the theme for the UK Foodbloggers Wine Tasting was Spanish tapas, I roasted them, then soaked them in sherry overnight, and skewered them up with chorizo, sage and sundried tomatoes - but this goes equally well with any kind of thinly-sliced sausage, my favourite at the moment being a spicy Napoli salami.
Although roasting them on an open fire gives them that special kick, you can still have great chestnuts in the comfort of your own home. The secret is to score them (crosswise on their backs), making sure to only cut the skin, not the fruit inside, then soak them in warm salt water for 5 minutes before tranferring them to the pre-heated oven (200 C) and roasting them for some 20 minutes or until the skins crack open.
Alongside tangerines, this is the perfect snack for a family gathering an a cold winter evening - not to forget a big pot of mulled wine on the stove...
Skewers of sherry-soaked roast chestnuts, sage and chorizo
(for 12 skewers)
18* fresh chestnuts
150 ml sherry (dry Oloroso)
12 small sage leaves
12 sunblush tomatoes (sundried, but moister)
12 thin slices chorizo or salami piccante
12 bamboo skewers
Preheat the oven to 200 C.
Score the chestnuts (crosswise on their backs) with a sharp knife, put on a baking tray, transfer to the oven and roast for 20 minutes, until the skins have cracked open.
Leave to cool for a few minutes, then peel (it's easier while they're still hot) and transfer to a bowl. Pour over the sherry and leave to soak Soak overnight.
The next day, soak the bamboo sticks in water. Prepare the skewers, chorizo first, then sage, chestnut and tomato. Serve standing up in a tall glass for people to help themselves.
* some will always break when you peel them or not be 100%, and you might find yourself grazing in the process, so I always roast more than I actually need...