The day before Thanksgiving, the Santa Rosa farmers market is as bustling as it ever is, with lots of vendors and eager shoppers and good spirits. It is worth it to adjust your schedule so that you can stop by. The market opens at 8:30 and closes at noon. If you are looking for something specific, it is best to go early. Every time I show up a bit later than usual, I miss out on something I really want.

Fresh chestnuts from Sonoma Coast Organic Produce, with quince in the background

This week, there are chestnuts, local organic chestnuts from Sonoma Coast Organic Produce, located on Fort Ross Road.  The farm sorts the chestnuts by size; some are about the size of hazelnuts or maybe a tad larger. The biggest are about the size of a ping-pong ball.

The farm also has beautiful quince and a nice selection of just-harvested golden chanterelle mushrooms.

You can enjoy chestnuts simply, roasted, like the song says. If you’ve ever been to Palermo in the fall, they are probably familiar to you. Street vendors roast them in cylindrical roasters and their sweet smoky aromas fill the night air. You can just as easily–if not as romantically–roast them in a hot oven at home.

Look closely and you'll see what encases a ripe chestnut.

Chestnuts are a traditional ingredient in turkey dressing. Chestnut soup is a tradition in many regions of Italy, where it is often served on Christmas Eve. Chestnuts are also a great addition to risotto, as I write about in this week’s Wine of the Week Food Pairing. The risotto is a lovely holiday dish, especially if you’re planning a nontraditional feast, as I often have.

There are other local chestnuts. Greg Dabel’s Chestnut Ranch in Graton is probably the best know but they are closed until 2011; they had a very small crop this year. Still, if you love chestnuts, check out the Web site and get on the mailing list for notification about next year’s harvest.