Although the peak of the chestnut season has passed, there are still a few chestnuts floating around at Farmer's Markets. Up until now, I had never tasted a chestnut. Absurd you say? Probably. And I've never tasted a truffle. Even more absurd. Growing up, chestnuts were only available if you knew someone who had a chestnut tree. I didn't. Commercially produced chestnuts were unheard of. Now, however, it's a very viable market for farmers looking at ways to increase their income. And when you realise the labour intense process of getting them out of their tough shells, you can fully understand why pre-cooked, pre-shelled and frozen chestnuts are such an exorbitant price.
I painstakingly set out to see what all the kafoofle was about with these so-called "nuts", which are actually the only nut that is classified as a vegetable, and the only "nut" allowed to be eaten on the Pritikin Diet.
And honestly, I really don't think I could be bothered to do it all again. The slitting of the tough outer shells was labourious to say the least. I was in constant fear of losing a digit or two along the way. Roasting was the easy part. The removal of those damn tough layers was pretty much the final straw.
I couldn't for life of me imagine why I had always yearned to smell freshly roasted nuts sold from a street vendor on a snow covered New York sidewalk. That's what Hollywood does to you I guess.
So with the meagre handful or two that I extricated from those shells, I thought Chestnut Soup was about the easiest option I could take from here on, apart from tossing them all in the garbage. But as consumers, we waste so much food each year, equating to approximately $400 AU per household. I could use that extra money each year, so from now on I'm not going to waste food. Full stop.
My new rule of thumb is to buy what is seasonal, fresh and only the amounts that I need. As the local Farmer's Market is only held on a Sunday morning, this can cause problems for the rest of the week, hence daily visits, or at least every second day, to the supermarket are required. From now on, I'm going to make sure that I can actually access everything in the crisper part of my fridge, instead of finding slimy vegetables down the bottom that I'd forgotten I'd even purchased. My pantry is so well stocked, I should only need to visit the meat and veg and dairy aisles of the supermarket for at least the next 6 months. The doors of my fridge groan with the weight of jars of condiments that have only had a teaspoon of their contents removed, and no doubt diminished in flavour as well. The shelves have ridiculous amounts of cooked left overs that no one bothers to reheat and actually have again as a meal. The dog usually has them for dinner. I honestly over cater and I need to stop doing that.
So for the chestnut soup, in went a plate of left over roasted potatoes and garlic at the last minute. All blitzed up, nobody new the difference. In fact it added a new dimension to what was probably going to be another bowl placed in the fridge, forgotten, forlornly shoved to the back, only to be tossed out along with the slimy veges. The recipe called for 1.5 litres of chicken stock. I only had a litre, but there was a half litre of beef stock buried in the bowels of the fridge, which was still within its "use by" date, so that was tossed into the soup as well. Waste not, want not, my mother has always said.
Ingredients (serves 6)
- 1kg chestnuts
- 80ml (1/3 cup) olive oil
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 3 celery sticks, chopped
- 125 gm pancetta, or lean bacon
- 1 tbs chopped fresh rosemary
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 red-skinned potato, peeled, chopped
- 1.5L (6 cups) chicken stock
- 150ml thick cream
- Preheat oven to 200°C. If using fresh chestnuts, use a sharp knife to cut a cross into the flat side of the chestnuts. Transfer to a baking tray and bake for about 30 minutes, until chestnuts feel quite soft. Set aside until cool enough to handle (they peel much better when warm), then use a small knife to remove the shells and any furry skins. Set aside.
- Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion, celery, pancetta, rosemary and garlic and cook over low heat for 5-6 minutes until the onion softens and the mixture just starts to turn golden. Add chestnuts, potato and stock. Season, then bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes. Taste and season again with freshly cracked black pepper.
- Set aside the soup to cool slightly, then blend in batches. Return to the pan, stir in the cream and reheat. Serve drizzled with the rosemary pesto (optional).