Friday, December 17, 2010

A Few of Our Favorite Things: Chestnut Sage Soup

IMG_6494This is a surprisingly delicate, complex soup, sweet and savory, with nice texture. It can easily be the star of a holiday meal.

How much work it is depends on the chestnuts: Vacuum-packed chestnuts from a jar are a perfectly acceptable shortcut, one I recommend. Fresh chestnuts are lovely, but peeling them is quite a project. You can peel them ahead of time and freeze them until it's time to make the soup.

Chestnut Sage Soup

Adapted from Jerry Traunfeld, The Herbal Kitchen

This is a lot of work if done all at once. If you don’t buy peeled chestnuts, I heartily recommend peeling them in advance and freezing them until you need them. The diced bacon also can be cooked ahead of time, to save on-the-spot prep.

Serve with a simple, straightforward main dish, such as roast chicken.

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 sage leaves, fresh, coarsely chopped
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.

Cook the onion, celery and 1/4 cup coarsely chopped sage 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.

Puree the soup in batches in a blender (be careful not to overfill) until very smooth. Pour back into saucepan, 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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