Do you ever look at chestnuts at this time of year and wonder what to do with them besides add them to stuffing? When I was a kid we used to simply roast them over the fire and they were fun to eat. A couple of years ago, Brian and I were at a dinner party and the hostess served a first course of this soup. No one could guess what it was and it was absolutely delicious. This soup is not a beautiful soup to look at, but I guarantee you will be amazed at how delicious it is. It would be a great first course at your Thanksgiving dinner. I topped the soup with croutons that I made using the method out of Thomas Keller's new book, Ad Hoc at Home. These are the croutons they make at the restaurant and they are intense - garlicky, oily, and crunchy, a perfect topping for the soup.
Chestnuts, nutritionally, are similar to brown rice. They are gluten free, cholesterol free, and nearly fat free.
If you are using whole raw chestnuts they must be peeled and there are two ways that you can do this. You can boil the chestnuts first and then peel them or you can peel them first and then cook them. I've tried them both ways and in my opinion, it's much easier to peel them first. If you try to peel them after you cook them, I think the peel just sticks to the chestnut. You have to slash the chestnuts and you must have a sharp knife for this. It takes a little practice, but after the first few, you'll get the hang of it. Soaking the chestnuts first for about 20 minutes in warm water helps to soften them up before you slash them.
I got my chestnuts from Earthy Delights, an online source for gourmet food products that just happens to be located near where I live. If you don't want to use raw chestnuts and peel them yourself, you can buy peeled and cooked chestnuts at Williams Sonoma. You will need about 16 ounces.
Silky Chestnut Soup
for a printable recipe, click here
for the soup:
for the Torn Croutons:
adapted from Ad Hoc at Home
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the carrot, celery and onion and cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the chestnuts and cook for about 4 minutes. Add the port and thyme sprigs and cook over medium heat until the port is reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Cover partially and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.
Discard the thyme sprigs. Insert an immersion blender into the soup and puree it. (If you don't have an immersion blender, transfer the soup to a blender and puree and return soup to the pot.) Return soup to a simmer, add the cream to the soup and season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls and top with croutons.
* To cook the chestnuts, soak them in a bowl of warm water for 20 minutes. Slash them with a sharp knife almost all the way around and peel off the husk and inner skin. Simmer in water for 25 minutes and drain.
If you don't want to use whole raw chestnuts, you could use 16 ounces of cooked chestnuts (available at Willliams Sonoma).
Cut the crusts off the loaf of bread. Tear the bread into irregular pieces no larger than 2 inches. Pour about 1/4 cup olive oil into a large saute pan and add the garlic cloves. Cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, making sure the garlic does not burn. Remove garlic cloves. Spread the bread in a single layer in the pan. Add the butter. The oil and butter should be bubbling, but if you hear sizzling, the heat is too high. Adjust the heat as necessary, and stir the croutons often as they cook. Cook until the croutons are crisp and a beautiful rich golden brown on all sides, 15 to 20 minutes.
I'm leaving you with a Thanksgiving video. If you hadn't seen this from last year, you might find it fun to watch. It's a video of the amazing Grant Achatz of Alinea cooking up a turkey with his business partner, Nick Kokonas, at Kokonas' home. He demonstrates a simple method with zip lock bags that the home cook can use to cook a turkey sous vide. Plus, it's fun just to watch Grant Achatz wield a knife!
If you enjoyed this video, they do a Part Two, where Grant makes stuffing.