This post was written by Marion Nowak, Terry Boyd's wife.
The first time I encountered the chestnut vendors of Paris, on a cold November night walking down the Rue de Rivoli with my sister, I was hooked. To me, that has become one of the key Parisian experiences. The night street, thronged with Parisians heading home or to dinner or just having a stroll, the Algerian vendor, his neck wrapped in a knit scarf, the charcoal fire in a metal drum, the improvised metal plate that is the roasting surface, handing over my two euro to the vendor, who hands me a little newspaper cornet packed with fragrant, dark, freshly roasted chestnuts, then walking down the avenue, peeling the chestnuts one at a time, looking at the passing crowd, wondering what I will have to drink with dinner, being back in France.
For some reason, it had never occurred to me that chestnuts, my beloved welcome-to-France snack, would make a beautiful, aromatic soup, too, at once elegant and comforting. I don’t remember the name of the long-gone restaurant here where we first had chestnut soup, as a tiny, exquisite starter to a winter celebration. But that hooked me, too.
I am a big fat coward when it comes to home roasting chestnuts. But now, the prevalence of roasted, vacuum-packed chestnuts means I can have this soup whenever I like.
This is not something you want to have every day. Chestnuts are very calorie dense, and then of course you are also using butter and cream. But for now and then – a winter dinner party, or a weekend brunch over the holidays, or something to reward yourself for surviving the work week – it is just the thing.
If you are a lover of hearty, flavor-dense dishes like this beef and pork ragú, or our Thanksgiving sweet potato vichyssoise, or if you just love the flavors of the harvest and the pleasure of settling in and taking care of yourself as the days grow shorter, you will love this.
It takes about 45 minutes to make (30 of those minutes just waiting for everything to simmer together). At the end, when you lean over the pot to check its progress, the heavenly, deep aroma will rise up and you will think, This is going to be great. And it will.
Serves 4 to 6 as a first course
1/2 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup shallots, chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced into thin coins
1/2 cup parsnip, peeled and chopped
1-1/2 cups potato, cut into small cubes or slices
about 12 ounces vacuum packed roasted chestnuts (plus extra, for garnish)
4 cups chicken stock
1/3 cup cream or half and half
1. In a large saucepan, melt the butter and olive oil together over medium flame. Add the shallots, carrot and parsnip and sauté about two minutes or until the shallots are translucent.
2. Add the potatoes and chestnuts, stir everything together and pour in the stock. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer about half an hour – until the potatoes and carrots are very tender.
3. Let cool a bit. Then puree it in the blender until very smooth. At this point, you can store it in the fridge for a day, or you can serve, heating it gently, adjusting seasonings with salt and pepper, and stirring in the cream. If you like, garnish with a few finely chopped chestnuts.
This was so good that I am planning to try some variations found online – not least Nick Kindelspringer’s lentil and chestnut soup and perhaps one of the soups using chestnuts and dried porcinis.
Related post on Blue Kitchen: Potage Crécy (creamy carrot soup)