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.
|Chestnuts, roasted, shelled||2 cups|
|Fennel, bulbs, large||1.5 (1/2 bulb for soup below, 1 bulb for serving)|
|Olive oil||3 tbsp|
|Leek, large, chopped||1|
|Garlic, clove, minced||1|
|Fennel, roasted, ½ bulb, roughly chopped||1 cup|
|Broth, vegetable||3 cups|
|Peppercorn medley||1/4 tsp|
|Sage, leaves, fresh, chopped||2|
|Vinegar, sherry||1/2 tbsp|
|Cream, light||1/2 cup|
- Heat oven to 400F. Bake chestnuts for 30-45 minutes until cooked. Shell.
- 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.
- In a medium pan over medium heat, heat 3 tbsp of olive oil.
- Add leek and sautee until onions become translucent.
- Add garlic and cook for a couple of minutes.
- Add roasted fennel ( 1/2 bulb, 1 cup) and cook for a couple of minutes.
- Deglaze the pan with brandy.
- Add chestnuts, broth, salt, black pepper, peppercorn medley, and sage.
- Cook for approximately 10 minutes until chestnuts are tender.
- Remove from heat and puree.
- Return to heat. Add vinegar and cream and return to a gentle simmer.
- Remove from heat.
- Divide soup between four bowls.
- Place a quarter of the roasted fennel in the middle of each soup bowl. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Serve with crusty bread.