My father-in-law makes a present of chestnuts to us and other family members every year and is a dab hand at roasting them at home, spreading much pleasure around even though everyone complains about how fattening chestnuts are, especially at the end of meal!
The only trouble with chestnuts is … well, cleaning them! You need to slit each chestnut’s outer skin, or whatever it is called, with a very sharp knife, before roasting them … and if you want to boil them, you have to take all the skin off first.
I considered all of this, even as some mischievous spark of my imagination provoked me into wanting to make chestnut soup one evening. My neighbour Rossella had promised it was a cinch to make and, after tasting hers which was truly delicious, I resolved to do so in an unprecedented fit of stoicism. Will power …. mind over matter … these are the traits of the stoic cook.
After shelling two chestnuts, I drew a deep breath and realised, not for the first time, that the stoic’s kitchen life is not for me. I am much more of an epicurean persuasion. And so I prevailed upon my lovely daughter’s patient outlook and asked, as sweetly as a mother can, to please do the dirty work for me. “You can watch television while you’re doing it” I finished off, in an attempt to make the work seem less onerous for her. And, bless her, she sedulously cut those incisions into about 50 chestnuts (I was cooking for 8 and thought that about 6 chestnuts per person would do the trick) without one word of complaint. I put the chestnuts on a baking tray in a hot oven (200°C) for about 30 minutes.
Here are the chestnuts, roasted in the oven and slightly cooled down. I am holding one that has been peeled. Just for the record, it was I who peeled all the chestnuts from this point onwards ….
And here are the roasted and peeled chestnuts which I then transferred to a saucepan. I covered them with water and let them simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. After that, and when they had cooled down naturally, I peeled the last bit of skin off them, which is on the downy side, and I set them aside to use later.
I cut up a carrot and a celery stick and started sautéing those in a casserole with some olive oil. I later added the potatoes, cubed into small pieces.
I cooked the sliced mushrooms in a separate pan with a little butter.
After the carrot and celery had cooked for a few minutes, I added the potates and cooked them for a further five minutes.
I then added the cooked mushrooms.
And then added the much pampered chestnuts.
The last addition, after a good dose of salt and a little pepper, was a bay leaf. I poured water over the lot, turned on the heat and cooked the soup for about 25 minutes.
It’s best to cook the soup with the lid on and over a low heat. Check on it now and then and, if necessary, add a little more water.
Before serving the soup, I used a potato masher to squeeze all the ingredients into a semblance of unity. This was the fun part!
And here is the soup, ready to be served. A little drizzle of olive oil to finish it off … and maybe a slice of crusty bread.
A rich, thick, satisfying soup for a wintry night! And a character-building exercise in patience … not for the faint hearted.