archives : chestnut soup nov '08

As Isabel Allende puts it in her wonderful book Aphrodite: A Memoire of the Senses, “Handling food joins the sense of touch with the basic pleasure of satisfying the appetite.” Yes, cooking is a patient occupation! So I thought for this – late – Thanksgiving recipe I’d give this simple - yet demanding in patience - Chestnut Soup recipe.

If you’re still in search of a starter for your Thanksgiving dinner, you can run out and buy some fresh chestnuts (they’ ll probably be from Italy since Chestnut trees are, sadly, quite rare now in the States due to a blight at the beginning of the 20th century) and sit around the table with friends and/or family and get them ready to be transformed into this velvety, succulent liquid dish.

As for food news, here are a couple tidbits: The European Commission is scraping rules that have kept forked carrots, curved cucumbers and other strange fruit from inhabiting the produce sections of markets. Can you imagine government employees policing vegetable stands and measuring out punishment to those daring to sell a crooked courgette? Here’s a good BBC article on the subject And if you have the itch to get some hands-on experience growing organic food and, here’s a wonderful organization, a world wide network that allows volunteers to live and learn on organic properties around the globe: WWOOF.

And finally, the Urban Homesteader who, along with his family, has been transforming his ordinary city lot in Pasadena into an organic permaculture garden that supplies them with food year around. Check out the website and this interesting videoon their urban farm.

A blessed, succulent Thanksgiving to you all!
Fresh Chestnut Soup  -  serves 4

1 1/2 lbs fresh chestnuts (in shells)
1/2 cup each celery, carrot, onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped turnip (optional)
3 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs, chopped
2 fresh bay leaves
1 rosemary sprig
3 tBsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup Madeira
Unrefined sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Orange-rosemary olive oil:
Zest of 1 orange
20 rosemary leaves
4 tBsp extra-virgin olive oil

- Carve an X on the flat side of each chestnut with a sharp paring knife. Put chestnuts in a large bowl, cover with water and let soak for 1/2 – 1 hour. Drain and spread chestnuts in a roasting pan and roast in oven preheated to 400 °F for 15-20 minutes, or until the shells are brittle and have curled back from the X. Remove from oven. When cool enough to handle, peel off outer shells and inner brown skins of chestnuts with a knife. Crumble them and set a side.
- Heat olive oil in large saucepan over low heat, stir in celery, carrot, turnip and onion. Cover surface of vegetables with a piece of wax paper and let vegetables sweat for 10 minutes. Remove wax paper, add 1 liter (4 1/2 cups) water, bay leaf, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 10 minutes. Add crumbled chestnuts and rosemary sprig and simmer covered for another 10 minutes. Add sherry and simmer uncovered for 3 minutes. Remove from heat, add parsley, and stir. Purée soup in a blender (be careful when blending hot liquids). Add salt and peeper to taste and more hot water if soup is too thick.
- For orange-rosemary olive oil:
Heat olive oil over low flame till nicely warm to the touch - but not boiling, pour over orange zest and rosemary leaves in a small
bowl or ramekin. Set aside to cool slightly.
Garnish soup with a drizzle or two of the seasoned oil and freshly ground black pepper.

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