Chestnuts are, in many homes, a Thanksgiving tradition. Some families couldn’t imagine the holiday without fragrant chestnut stuffing. And you can always tell which families those are by the scorched, callused fingertips of the cook.
Sure, roasted chestnuts smell wonderful and chestnut stuffing is delicious, but it all comes at a price. You see, to get chestnuts out of their shell, you have to peel them while they’re hot. Really, really hot. Which is okay if you’re standing next to a roasted chestnut vendor on a freezing cold night in Rockefeller Center watching the lighting of the Christmas tree. But if you’re alone in the kitchen cauterizing your fingerprints while your “friends” and “family” enjoy themselves in another room, there’s a possibility you might become just a teensy bit, you know, resentful.
So, in the interest of familial harmony, here’s a neat little shortcut that could minimize the effects of that other holiday tradition, stress: use canned chestnuts. Okay, they’re not exactly the same and they don’t come cheap, but they’re pretty darned good and they’re a lot cheaper than the psychotherapy you’ll need to recover from PTSD (Post Thanksgiving Stress Disorder).
Canned (also known as preserved) chestnuts come in jars or cans and are sometimes lightly sweetened, which makes them just dandy for this holiday appetizer (and for snacking in the kitchen, too.) I’ve also found them in foil packs at my local Asian supermarket; those were quite good, but the imported French chestnuts are crazy, off-the-chain good and worth tracking down.
You can use either a wedge or a small wheel of brie. Don’t knock yourself out trying to remove all traces of the white coating; just take off the majority of it. A serrated knife is good for this.
This appetizer can be served with crackers, toast rounds, and/or crisp apple slices and other fruits. It has a light natural sweetness from the dates and dried cranberries, but you can make the topping sweeter by adding a tablespoon or two of sugar and passing it under the broiler.
In addition to being a delicious and impressive appetizer, this fondue-like dish would also be a nice post-holiday, brunch-in-bed for the overworked holiday cook in your life (and if you’re the overworked cook, don’t be shy about hinting!)
Here’s how to make the Bubbly Brie Party Dip With Chestnuts, Dates, and Cranberries:
12 – 14 oz brie
1 small jar (approx 7 oz) preserved chestnuts
1/2 cup pitted dates
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ginger
Pinch of salt
2-3 grinds of black pepper (optional)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1-2 Tbsps demerara or light brown sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Using the edge of a knife, gently scrape off most of the white coating from the brie (don’t worry about the grooves) and place it in a small lidded baking dish or ramekin. Chop or break up the chestnuts with your fingers into large chunks and sprinkle on and around the brie.
In a food processor, chop the dates until finely minced. Bring the dates, water, nutmeg, ginger, salt, and pepper to a simmer in a small saucepan for about 5-7 minutes.
Spread the date mixture over the brie and chestnuts. Sprinkle with the dried cranberries. Cover and bake 20-25 minutes until brie is melted and bubbly. To add additional sweetness, sprinkle the top with the sugar and pass under the broiler for a minute or two.
Serve hot or at room temperature. Serves 4-6 as an appetizer.
Please join us tomorrow to read our newest food and cooking article: Cooking With Apple Cider and Applesauce: 19 Delicious Recipe Ideas That Make the Most of Apples.
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