Roasted Chestnut Soup

I have had a love affair with chestnuts in all their forms, ever since I can remember and though extremely versatile, my absolute favourite way to enjoy them is freshly roasted and warm, straight off the hot coals.

These days, we bake them in the oven, but I have fond memories growing up of sitting by the fire, hearing them crackle as they slowly roasted over the hot ambers in my mom’s wood stove. We could barely refrain from digging in as she pulled them from the fire, and we waited impatiently until we could handle them before cracking their shells open and biting into that first mouthful – piping hot, velvety and creamy, delicately sweet, buttery nutty and utterly luxurious. We eat them raw too, but there’s nothing really quite like a warm, roasted chestnut.

We’ll take them anytime, but in my family, they tend to be used to complete a meal, just before the espresso, and what a finale!

They are used in both savoury and sweet dishes. I have made vegetarian tourtières with chestnuts, vegetarian cakes, and they are delicious in stuffings, at the center or as enhancers. One of my favourite panettoni incorporates marrons glacés, but I also love thèse candied chestnuts on their own! There’s a bag of chestnut flour in my refrigerator just waiting for experimentation.

I’ve been wanting to make a soup for a long time, but for that, one requires excess roasted chestnuts, which is rare in my household!

This soup came together quickly and rather effortlessly. I knew what it had to be. I really wanted the chestnuts to shine through so was very careful with any additions, ensuring they were truly complementary, but more importantly, enhancing, taking care not to mask or detract from the chestnuts in any way. Celery wasn’t going to do the trick and carrots were only going to make the soup even sweeter, so I opted for fennel, which needed to be roasted first because I didn’t want the anise flavour to come through too much.

The outcome was nothing less than purely magical for a flavour combination that exceeded expectations. It’s a roasted chestnut soup with a boost, a lift, if you will, that managed to elevate the chestnut to a whole other level. If the quarter roasted fennel bulb wasn’t served as a garnish, you’d never guess it was the active ingredient. The perfect spoonful? A large chunk of the roasted fennel drenched in chestnut goodness.

Earthy, comforting and rich, there’s nothing quite like it. Seemingly made for this time of year, at least, for these parts.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

 Chestnuts, roasted, shelled 2 cups
Fennel, bulbs, large 1.5 (1/2 bulb for soup below, 1 bulb for serving)
Olive oil
Salt
Black pepper
Olive oil 3 tbsp
Leek, large, chopped 1
Garlic, clove, minced 1
Fennel, roasted, ½ bulb, roughly chopped 1 cup
Brandy 2 tbsp
Broth, vegetable 3 cups
Salt 1 tsp
Black pepper
Peppercorn medley 1/4 tsp
Sage, leaves, fresh, chopped 2
Vinegar, sherry 1/2 tbsp
Cream, light 1/2 cup
Bread, crusty Serving

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 400F. Bake chestnuts for 30-45 minutes until cooked. Shell.
  2. Reduce oven to 375F. Quarter fennel bulbs. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and black pepper and bake for 30-40 minutes until caramelized.
  3. In a medium pan over medium heat, heat 3 tbsp of olive oil.
  4. Add leek and sautee until onions become translucent.
  5. Add garlic and cook for a couple of minutes.
  6. Add roasted fennel ( 1/2 bulb, 1 cup) and cook for a couple of minutes.
  7. Deglaze the pan with brandy.
  8. Add chestnuts, broth, salt, black pepper, peppercorn medley, and sage.
  9. Cook for approximately 10 minutes until chestnuts are tender.
  10. Remove from heat and puree.
  11. Return to heat. Add vinegar and cream and return to a gentle simmer.
  12. Remove from heat.
  13. Divide soup between four bowls.
  14. Place a quarter of the roasted fennel in the middle of each soup bowl. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Serve with crusty bread.

Polenta-Kissed Spinach

I’ve been away, but it doesn’t mean I haven’t been cooking.

So much has transpired since I last posted. Too much to recount… Tending to a host of health issues became a full-time job and that included returning to nourishment, on all levels, which meant the real beginning of nourishing me – body, mind, and soul.

I was forced, literally, to do a reset and though that journey was definitely not an easy one, there were many gifts along the way.

Food, a rediscovery of it, re-interpretation, re-engagement, and re-integration, was one of them and of course, recipes like this one.

I was cooking one evening a recipe I hadn’t made in a long time, not because it wasn’t a favourite, but because my compulsive need to keep experimenting with new and different recipes and love for diversity has both blessed and cursed me with many favourites to the point that there are beloved recipes we don’t return to for years.

That dish was one of its victims. This time, due to a strict food regime to fix severe stomach issues, I sadly adapted the recipe to accommodate my dietary restrictions at the time. As I stood at my stove, hovering over the dish, it came to me, polenta-kissed spinach.

Over dinner, I told this to my husband and on the weekend it became our next weekly brunch feature. Fresh spinach normally abundant was difficult to find that week, but on one of our daily walks, we happened to stop in at the grocery store and managed to procure the required bundles.

In my mind, the spinach was silky, loose, and just barely coated with a thin sheen of polenta. To be clear, it was a spinach dish kissed with polenta and not intended to be polenta containing spinach (though this is now on the list to make because I’m really loving this duo).

We came home and commenced the now insanely long process of properly sanitizing the greens for safe consumption. I embarked on making the dish fully expecting to make adjustments along the way to match the picture in my head. My husband was close by taking notes and carefully tracking ingredients and amounts and on standby to revise accordingly.

Never before has a recipe come together so effortlessly. Every ingredient and measurement was correct from the start, and nothing needed adjustment, nothing. It turned out, on the first attempt, exactly as I had envisioned.

As usual, I was telling my mom about our brunch meal when later we spoke and she fell quiet. When I inquired about her silence (extremely rare for my mother), she responded she was remembering back to her grandma, who used to make this dish for her when she was a child. Then, it was my turn to fall silent. My mom had never mentioned the dish, nor made it for me growing up, and she explained that she had even forgotten about it, but concluded she too would resurrect it. I have always said that food is extremely powerful, particularly as a connector, on many levels, including our past, and the long ancient lineage of ancestral wisdom.

To say I love spinach is an understatement. I have fond memories growing up of my mom making mounds of spinach for me, simply blanched, seasoned with salt and drizzled with olive oil. I would eat mounds of it. Couldn’t get enough!

I now have yet another way to enjoy it, except now it has a little bit more substance and a lot more character. It’s simply gorgeous as a side dish and stunning as an ensemble for brunch, particularly with poached eggs. Such a beautiful way to get my fill of spinach, eat my spinach, and pay hommage to my ancestors. Thanks great grandma.

Serves 2

Ingredients:

 Olive oil  1 tbsp
 Garlic, clove, minced  1
 Water  1 cup
 Chili flakes  pinch
 Salt  1/2 tsp
 Black pepper
 Cornmeal  2 tbsp
 Spinach  2 bunches
 Juice, lemon  1/2 tsp
 Olive oil (if needed)  1 tbsp

Directions:

  1. In a medium, but deep skillet, over medium heat, heat olive oil.
  2. Add garlic. Cook for 1-2 minutes.
  3. Add water and bring to a simmer.
  4. Add chili flakes, salt and black pepper and simmer for 2 minutes.
  5. Add cornmeal and cook for 8 minutes.
  6. Remove half the polenta from skillet and reserve for later use.
  7. Add spinach and cook until just wilted.
  8. Return to skillet other half of the polenta and fold into spinach until coated.
  9. Add lemon juice.
  10. Add olive oil if required.
  11. Divide spinach into two bowls.

Serving suggestion:

  1. Top with 2 poached eggs.
  2. Season eggs with salt, black pepper and paprika.
  3. Garnish dish with parmesan and drizzle with olive oil.
  4. Serve with a piece of toast cut in half.

Lemon Saffron Quinoa Soup


It’s at this time of year that I begin to miss soups, even before I actually stop making them. I push soup season for as long as I can and keep soups on my weekly menu plans until the end of May or early June, if it’s still cool enough. In fact, I don’t typically stop making soups over the summer, at least not entirely.  I just slow it down. I get one or two hot soups in before the summer months are over, not because they are seasonal, but because some seasonal ingredients work so well in soups, but more importantly because I love soups in any season. 

I’m not sure from where the inspiration for this soup came except for the fact that I enjoy soups and love quinoa. Quinoa is now being added to almost everything, soups, chillies, tacos, etc., but as one of many ingredients, and it frustrates me because I never seem to get my quinoa fill. This is a light, brothy soup with plenty of quinoa swimming in a saffron, lemony pool packed with sweet leeks, loaded with parsley and rounded by a soft hit of pepper. It’s intricate simplicity at its best. 

You can have fun with this soup by changing up the broth. A sweetcorn broth works quite nicely, as would a carrot, parsnip, or fennel broth. A single shredded carrot or parsnip is also a nice addition. 

This is a fast weeknight meal that can be made in 30 minutes or so and a complete vegetable protein!

As I lament the upcoming “hiatus” from soups, I must admit that I am tired of the winter grade produce and am wildly anticipating the spring goodies. Oversized bunches of asparagus sit in my fridge as I decide how to celebrate the debut of spring. 

But for just a little while, I’m going to sit on the fence as I reminisce about the days of winter now gone and await the fresh bundles of spring.  So, enjoy a hearty bowl of soup as you awaken from the winter’s slumber and delicately step into spring. 

Serves 4-5

Ingredients:

 Olive oil  1/4 cup + 1
 Leeks  2
 Garlic, cloves, minced  3
 Chili flakes  1/8 tsp
 Broth, vegetable  10 cups
 Quinoa  3/4 cup
 Salt  2 tsp
 Black pepper
 Parsley  1 cup
 Saffron, pinches, generous  3
 Turmeric  1/4 tsp
 Zest, lemon, small  1
 Juice, lemon  1 tsp
 Watercress, baby


Directions:

1. In a medium pot, over medium heat, heat oil.

2. Add leeks and sauté for 5-7 until softened, but not browned.

3. Add garlic and chili flakes and cook for a couple of minutes.

4. Add broth and bring to a simmer.

5. Add quinoa, salt, black pepper, 3/4 of the parsley, saffron, turmeric, and lemon zest and simmer for 15 minutes (or until quinoa is cooked – check package directions).

6. Add lemon juice and remaining parsley and stir. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly.

7. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with a handful of baby watercress.