A velvety chestnut soup is an added value for comfort food. it carries the warmth of the fireplace to the table, conjures earthy flavours in the mouth and warms even the coldest heart. Just make sure it’s there. Serve it in a relaxed or formal way. When poured into a glass with a little walnut-sized ball of whipped vanilla cream, the soup will transport you to impressive dimensions.
Enclosed inside a wooden spiny cupule, the chestnut fruit contains two times more starch (45%) than the potato and is considered a whole food, rich in vitamin C and B, folic acid, potassium (518 mcg/100gr), iron, magnesium, calcium, manganese, phosphorus and zinc. It contains fewer calories than other nuts (half the amount of walnuts) and is gluten-free. Chestnut trees yield more when middle-aged, especially after their fifties. Between 50 and 60 years old, every tree produces up to 50 kilos of chestnuts, which are gathered by hand (after shaking the branches).
Chestnut is Orwell’s tree of lost virtues and values while in its name betrayal and destruction are perpetrate. In the novel ‘1984’ it represents justice, honesty and chastity – values that are mocked in the lyrics of the homonymous children’s song “The Chestnut Tree” (by Glen Miller, 1939) that Orwell had heard as a child. It is also the tree of the Big Brother that overshadows everything with his “values”, controlling the mind and the will. Any similarity between what is presently happening in the world and in our relationships, believe me, is purely coincidental.
Chestnut soup, like most soups that are named after the main ingredient (leek soup, carrot soup, etc.) usually contains many vegetables – onions are absolutely necessary (or leeks, as they are sweeter) and sometimes potato, carrot and celery. The main thing to remember about this soup is that all these ingredients shouldn’t act like primadonnas and outshine the chestnuts. If you feel like improvising, do so, but avoid excess. We choose to marry chestnuts with Naxos’ white-fleshed sweet potato (Sparta’s/Mani’s sweet potato is pretty good too), because it has its own flavour and tastes slightly like chestnut, so it synergizes perfectly with them, reinforcing the final result. However, you may use common potatoes (1 large potato at the most, though), and slightly increase the amount of chestnuts.
If they are in season, use fresh chestnuts and boil them for half an hour in slightly salted water, because they give a more “rounded” taste to the soup. Alternatively, vacuum-packed chestnuts (which we used here) are an equally decent solution (and if you are in a hurry are also time-saving).
Finally, it is must to pass the mashed soup through a strainer or cheesecloth for perfecting the texture, especially for fine dinning. The classic French school would mock the option no to. However, the soup we made became silky and with an excellent liquidity, simply with a hand blender (see photo).
One of this year’s finest soups, with a flavour beyond our greatest expectations. We will definitely make it again soon.
Preparation: 15 minutes, and 35-40 minutes for cooking (with pre-cooked chestnuts). You may prepare it one or two days ahead and keep it in the fridge. Simmer it gently over low heat. Easy and relatively quick recipe.
Ingredients (serves 6)
1 tbsp butter
1 large onion or 2 small, roughly chopped
1 celery stick, sliced
1 garlic clove, sliced
2 bay leaves
1 sprig parsley
500gr chestnuts, cooked and peeled
2/3 white-fleshed sweet potato from Naxos or Sparta, peeled and diced
1.2 lt chicken or vegetable stock, preferably homemade
3 tbsp brandy
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
150ml whipped cream with 1 drop of vanilla extract
4 chestnuts, broken into small pieces
To prepare the vegetables: Melt the butter in a casserole pan over medium heat and add the onion, celery and garlic. Sauté until tender and light brown, for 5-6 minutes. Add the bay leaves, parsley, sweet potato, chestnuts and stock and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes.
To complete: Remove the pan from the heat and discard the bay leaves and parsley. Purée the soup with a hand blender and, if you want an extra-velvety texture, pass it through a sieve. Correct salt and pepper to taste, pour the brandy and stir.
To serve: Divide the hot soup in bowls or dishes and add 1 tablespoon of whipped cream and a few pieces of chestnuts.
Wine pairings: A barrel Chardonnay that satisfies the palate. Its exhuberant flavour, rounded by the subtle vanilla flavours of the barrel, complements the earthy tones of the chestnut and enhances the enjoyment of the soup.