Chestnuts roasting on an open fire ..." That's the most likely way many of us eat chestnuts these days. They may also be served alongside the sprouts during Christmas dinner or be turned into stuffing for the Christmas turkey. But England's great stately homes used to have a different way of using the chestnut harvest that is so tasty, it really should not be forgotten.
Chestnut soup with its delicate taste and smooth, velvety texture makes a great starter to any meal. And it's neither difficult nor extremely time-consuming to prepare. So next time you're out in the woods with the kids, or looking at a net of chestnuts at your local supermarket, pick up a pound or two!
You can use pre-cooked and vacuum-packed chestnuts for an even faster soup (in the UK, I think Merchant Gourmet have the best ones), or you could even use a tin of chestnut puree. Just make sure it's unsweetened!
This recipe will feed four people as a starter, but the quantities are easily increased. Water makes a very delicate soup, while game stock will give your soup a richer flavour.
If you're using fresh chestnuts, prepare these first: Bring a pan of water to the boil. Cut a cross into the base of each chestnut and drop them into the boiling water. Steep for about a minute, then drain and peel off the shells. This step can be done well in advance of making soup. You can also farm it out to other helpful people!
When you're ready to make your soup, melt the butter in a large pan and add the chopped onion, celery and potatoes. Turn to coat in the butter, then add the chestnuts. (If you're using chestnut puree, don't add this just yet!)
Add the clove, pour over the stock or water and season with salt and pepper.
Cover and bring to the boil. Then reduce the heat and simmer until the chestnuts are soft. This will take about 20 minutes. If you are using chestnut puree, check the soup after 10 minutes. If the potatoes are soft, add the chestnut puree to the soup, stir and simmer for 5 minutes. Otherwise give the potatoes another few minutes and check again.
Now take the soup off the heat. Fish out the clove if you can find it. Puree the soup in a blender or liquidiser until perfectly smooth. Check the seasoning. Sprinkle over the thyme and serve with croutons.