Friday, December 16, 2011

Healthy Holidays: Chestnut Sage Soup

If you're looking for the perfect side dish for your holiday table, this is it.

I love the delicacy of this soup, the mix of savory and sweet, the smoky bacon. I don't love the prep work, however: It will be a lot easier to make if you use vacuum-packed, ready-to-go chestnuts. Peeling hot chestnuts is tough work, and certainly not the kind of work I want to be stuck doing amid holiday celebrating. If you go the fresh route, consider peeling the chestnuts ahead of time and stashing them in the freezer.

Chestnut Sage Soup

Adapted from Jerry Traunfeld, The Herbal Kitchen

If you don’t buy peeled chestnuts, I recommend peeling them in advance and freezing them until needed. The diced bacon also can be cooked ahead of time, to save on-the-spot prep.

1 pound chestnuts, fresh in their shells, or 1/2 pound dried chestnuts, or two 7-ounce jars vacuum-packed peeled chestnuts
1 medium onion, chopped
1 ½ cups celery, sliced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 cups vegetable broth
¾ cup apple cider or apple juice
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh sage leaves
1 bunch thyme sprigs, tied with string
2 bay leaves
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup half & half
¼ cup sherry, dry or medium-dry
dash kosher salt
dash ground pepper
2 ounces bacon or pancetta, diced
1 tablespoon sage leaves, chopped
½ apple, unpeeled, cored and diced

If using fresh chestnuts, bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Carefully cut the chestnuts in half with a sharp knife and put them in the freezer for 10 minutes. Add the chestnuts to the boiling water; boil for 8 minutes, then drain. Squeeze each half to pop out the meat, along with the dark brown pellicle surrounding it. This is much easier to do while the chestnuts are hot; you might want to do this in batches.

If using dried chestnuts, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the chestnuts and simmer 10 minutes, then remove from heat and let soak for an hour.

Vacuum-packed chestnuts can be used straight from the jar.

To make the soup: Cook the onion, celery and 1/4 cup coarsely chopped sage leaves in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until onion and celery are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in all but 1/2 cup of the chestnuts along with the broth, cider, thyme, and bay leaves. Cover and simmer over very low heat for 45 minutes. Remove and discard the thyme and bay leaves; stir in vanilla.

Purée the soup in batches (an immersion blender is great for this) until very smooth. Stir in cream and sherry, and reheat to simmering. Add salt and pepper as needed.

Cook the bacon in a medium skillet — don’t let it get crisp. Drain excess fat, then add in the reserved chestnuts and cook another minute. Stir in apple and cook until warmed through.

Spoon soup into bowls, topping each with the apple-chestnut garnish.

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