This recipe was supposed to be up before Christmas, and then before New Years, and now, finally, I’m getting around to posting it after all the holiday feasting is over. But better now than never, right?
It’s a tasty treasure that I tore from the LA Times 10 years ago. And since then it’s been kept delicately between the pages of a favorite cookbook. But I’m terrified that I’m going to lose it, see, which is why I have to blog about it. So it will be forever immortalized on the internet. (It’s not in the LA Times recipe archive, I’ve looked.)
It’s really quite simple, but incredibly delicious and very festive. The only time consuming part being the roasting of the chestnuts. Though you could buy them pre-roasted and vacuum packed if you prefer. I’m partial to roasting them myself.
Roasting chestnuts is v. v. easy, but also v. time consuming and there is a high probability that you’re thumbs will end up sore, with little shards of chestnut shell lodged under at least one nail. But I think it’s worth it. I do.
Roasted Chestnut Soup
From the LA Times c. 2000
3 T unsalted butter
1/2 c chopped celery
1/2 c chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped fennel
3 springs fresh time (plus more for garnish, if you wish)
1 bay leaf (two or three if fresh)
3 whole cloves
6-8 cups homemade veg stock (or chicken if you prefer)
3 cups chestnuts, roasted peeled and chopped (about 2 lbs whole fresh*)
1/2 c Calvados (apple brandy*)
1/2 c heavy cream
1/2 t white pepper
1/2 c creme fraiche
To roast fresh chestnuts: Use a sharp knife to cut an “X” on the flat side of each nut. Roast them for 10 minutes, on a baking sheet, in the oven at 500º. Remove from the oven and cover with a towel that’s been soaked in ice water and wrung out. Let stand for 10 minutes, then peel. A bigger “X” will yield a bigger hole in the top, which is good for peeling. If you’re not up for roasting freshies, or if they’re not available, you can substitute two 7.4 oz jars of roasted whole chestnuts. I’ve also seen vacuum packed, which I’m sure would work too.
For the soup: Melt the butter in a large saucepan or shallow stock pot over medium-low heat. Add the celery, onion, and fennel and a pinch of sea salt; cover and cook until the veg are translucent, about 15 minutes.
Wrap the thyme, bay leaves, and cloves in a piece of cheesecloth and tie with kitchen string. Add the bundle to the vegetables along with the chestnuts and brandy. Stir for a few minutes and then add the stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer partially covered until the chestnuts are super soft, about 45 minutes. Discard the cheesecloth bundle.
Puree the soup in batches in a blender. Return the pureed soup to the cleaned pot. Add the cream (or milk works well too, but you might want a bit more) and pepper and reheat. Taste for seasoning. You might need a bit more salt.
Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche and a teeny thyme spring.
This recipe makes enough for 6-7 small servings. I served it this year in our Heath modern cups, without a spoon. It was a great starter for a little family get together before xmas. If you intend to serve a full portion, I would consider making a double recipe.
Chestnuts: if you buy fresh, buy an extra pound. They’re expensive, but I always seem to lose some in the peeling process. Either they’re old and moldy or they don’t release from the inner skin. And I would err on the side of MORE chestnuts. I think one year I used 4 cups roasted and chopped because I had them and it just makes the soup better. Also, I met a nice European women this year over the chestnut basket at Whole Foods and she told me to choose chestnuts that are hard when you squeeze them with your thumb. Soft ones are old. Good tip!
Calvados: If you don’t have this or can’t find it or don’t want to buy special brandy for this soup, you can use something else. I used Cognac this year because we had a bottle in our liquor cabinet. Tasted totally fine.