I have a confession to make… until Autumn this year, I had never eaten a chestnut. Not being a huge nut person (insert the obvious joke here), I assumed that I wouldn’t like them – it just goes to show how wrong you can be. From the first taste of this soup, I was hooked and since then I have eaten them in salads, cakes and just by themselves. I just can’t get enough and it makes me so sad to think that I have missed 25 chestnut seasons and never knew. To add insult to injury, this year the season was only about a quarter of the usual length because of the drought so I didn’t have the chance to make much with them. Mind you, what I did make was soup- and LOTS of it.
Despite the pain in the neck factor, I would urge you to buy whole chestnuts and peel them yourself. But don’t do this unless you have a lot of time (and a pair of gloves) on your hands. I have found that boiling them is easier than roasting them as a means of getting the skins off although this is just a personal preference- and really it is never easy to get the skins off so just do what you are comfortable with. Luckily this soup is worth all of that soaking, peeling and swearing, it has a lovely buttery, complex flavour and it’s texture is not at all grainy. For the sake of my sanity (and my fingernails) it is probably best this madness only happens once a year.
Based on Stephanie Alexander’s soup from The Cooks’ Companion (if you are ever going to spend a hundred dollars on a book, let it be this one)
25 grams butter
1 large (or two small) onion, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 litre (4 cups) chicken stock (I make my own but a good bought stock is fine)
First peel the chestnuts- leave yourself at least half an hour to do this- to do this, you need to cut a small cross in the side of the outer skin of the chestnut (do NOT miss this step or you could have a small explosion in your kitchen) then you can either boil them in hot water for 15mins or roast them at 180 degrees for 30mins. Once you have done this, you need to peel both the outer and inner skins off leaving just the beige inner nut. Believe me, once you have done this, it is all downhill.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan and fry the onion and garlic until the onion is translucent but not brown. Add the chestnuts and the stock and bring to the boil. Add some salt here if you like (particularly if your stock is homemade- mine tends to be a lot less salty than the ones you buy from the shop). Lower the heat to medium and put the lid on. Cook for 20 mins or until the chestnuts are soft, adjust the seasoning and then pour it into a blender and whiz until smooth, or you could use a stick blender in the pot if you have one.
You can serve this straight away or it will keep in the fridge for a day or two if you are making it ahead. I can vouch for it being a particularly good lunch on a cold day.