Appetites: Cranberries, chestnuts for your holiday table

Cranberry salsa
Cookbook author Beth Dooley's cranberry ginger Sslsa includes fresh cranberries with orange and ginger Friday, Nov. 29, 2013. It can be served on crackers or with chips.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

As we are right now in the heart of the holiday season, we've got a little twist on tradition for your holiday table.

Beth Dooley, author of "Minnesota's Bounty: The Farmers Market Cookbook" and contributor to MPR News' Appetites, has two truly American treats that are also sure signs of holiday eating.

TOM CRANN: Firstly, cranberries. While many may think they've already gotten their annual dose of cranberries on Thanksgiving, you argue that they should be popular right through the holidays.

BETH DOOLEY: They should be, because they're local, they're fresh, and there are a lot of them. Farmers have had a very good year, so you'll be able to find fresh cranberries right into the first of the year. And, they're fabulous.

CRANN: We're in cranberry country -- especially for fresh cranberries, right?

DOOLEY: That's right. Tomah, Wis., and the surrounding area grow the most cranberries in the entire world. People think of New Jersey and Massachusetts as cranberry centers, but they grow cranberries for processing. The local Wisconsin berries are grown fresh.

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CRANN: How are they grown?

Salsa ingredients
Fresh cranberries are mixed with orange zest and juice, grated and crystalized ginger and sugar to make cookbook author Beth Dooley's cranberry ginger salsa Friday, Nov. 29, 2013.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

DOOLEY: There are two different methods. The conventional method will flood the fields which will lift the berries up, because they are lighter than water. That flooding process makes them very easy to harvest mechanically.

The organic growers harvest them dry. They use beautiful rakes made by the Amish, and they rake the berries off of their vines out of the field. When the cranberries are harvested this way, those berries will keep longer and they are quite delicious.

CRANN: Now, fresh berries versus frozen or canned. What is the real difference in flavor?

DOOLEY: Like any berry, it's going to absorb some water when you freeze it. Especially with conventional cranberries, since they have been harvested wet, they will have absorbed some water and will become a little more mushy and will not be as firm as a really good organic berry that has been harvested dry.

CRANN: How can we have cranberries in a new way?

DOOLEY: Most people like to cook them first, but I like to use them really fresh. I will put them in a food processor with maybe some ginger or some jalapeno and a little bit of sugar and you will get a great salsa. It's delicious with chips or crackers, on top of a soft cheese, or with some of your leftover Thanksgiving turkey. You can also stir it in with a little bit of mayonnaise for a nice, fresh spread.

CRANN: Secondly chestnuts. This time of year we might think of them in a near mythical way. But they are also being grown locally, making the old new.

DOOLEY: Exactly. What is so exciting to me is that there is a research firm called Badgersett Research Corporation down in Canton, Minn., that is actually reviving the American chestnut tree. The American chestnut was wiped out in the 1950s by a fungus that was imported into the country with Asian chestnut trees. The Asian chestnuts are what we most often see in the markets. They are big, glossy chestnuts that you can buy roasted from New York City street vendors.

For a snack, use a sharp knife to score an X on the flat side of some chestnuts. Then roast them in a 350-degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes until the shells begin to curl. Cool and peel off the shells.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

CRANN: If we're looking for the local American chestnuts, how are they different from those more-common Asian varieties?

DOOLEY: They are smaller, a little sweeter, and they are often in big bins marked local in co-ops. They come in from southern Minnesota and Iowa. Badgersett Research is now selling a lot of the stock -- so you can order plants online -- and they are selling them to growers around the region. The trees are beautiful that can grow to be seven stories high that have a canopy of beautiful white blossoms that bloom in the spring. They are just lovely.

CRANN: Other than roasted, how else can we have chestnuts?

DOOLEY: You can slice them and pop the nut out of its skin and eat them raw. They are quite sweet when fresh. Or, chop them and put them in cookies or breads. They are great in stuffings. Also, you can steam them or cook them in stock and add a little cream for a beautiful chestnut soup.

Cranberry Ginger Salsa

Makes about 3 cups

1 large orange
3 cups fresh cranberries, rinsed and sorted
1/4 cup chopped crystalized ginger
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup sugar, or to taste

Using a vegetable peeler or zester, remove the zest from the orange, avoiding the bitter pith, and place it in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Slice the orange in half and squeeze the juice into the food processor. Add the cranberries along with the crystallized ginger, fresh ginger, and sugar. Process until the mixture is chunky, about 15 to 30 seconds. Taste the salsa and add more ginger or sugar. This will keep at least two weeks, stored in a covered container, in the refrigerator.

Cranberry Apple Salsa

Makes about 3 cups

2 cups fresh cranberries, rinsed and sorted
1 large, tart apple, cored and chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
4 green onions, trimmed and chopped
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
Juice of 1 to 2 limes, to taste
3/4 cup sugar, or more to taste

Put all of the ingredients into a food processor fitted with a steel blade and chop until the mixture is chunky.

Parsnip and Chestnut Puree

Serves 4 to 6

About 1-1/4 pounds parsnips, cut into chunks
1 cup blanched or roasted and peeled chestnuts
2 tablespoons chopped parsley, plus additional for garnish
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup cream or milk, as needed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of nutmeg

Place the parsnips and the chestnuts in a steamer above 1 or 2 inches of water and set the pan over medium heat. Cover and bring the water to a simmer, and cook until the parsnips are easily pierced. Transfer the cooked parsnips and chestnuts to a food processor fitted with a steel blade and add the parsley and butter, process adding cream as needed, until smooth. Season to taste with the salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Cranberry Chestnut Bread

Makes 1 loaf

Oil for greasing the pan
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into chunks
3/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1 egg
1 cup cranberries, rinsed, sorted and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chestnuts, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x5-inch bread pan. Stir the dry ingredients together. Using a fork or your fingers, cut the butter so that it resembles small peas.

In a separate bowl, beat together the juice, zest and egg. Pour this into the dry ingredients mixing just enough to moisten; do not beat.

Fold in the cranberries and chestnuts then pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until the bread is golden and toothpick or sharp knife inserted into the center comes up clean, about 1 hour. Cool on a rack for about 15 minutes before removing from the pan.

To prepare chestnuts for these recipes: Slice each nut in half and then blanch in boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain and then pinch the back of the nut with your fingers (or use a pliers). The nut will pop out.

To roast chestnuts for a snack: Score the flat part of the nut with a sharp knife or snip the smaller pointy end with a scissors. Roast the chestnuts in a 350-degree oven until the shells begin to curl, about five to 10 minutes. Remove. Cool and peel off the shells.