The first time I ate roasted chestnuts was on a trip to Italy. I bought them from a street vendor one gloomy winter afternoon in Vicenza while they were still warm and fragrant. I felt the way my daughter did the first time she ate chocolate. She gave me a look that said why have you been holding this back on me for so long?
The first time I had chestnut soup was back home in New York when David Bouley had a little takeout shop in Tribeca. It was bitter cold and I bought a cup of chestnut soup to go and walked around the neighborhood drinking it out of a cardboard coffee cup. It was the best bowl of soup I ever had, decadent and earthy at the same time.
Last week I was reading The New York Times and came across a mushroom soup recipe for Thanksgiving and I thought I'd give it a try with chestnuts. The recipe also had rice in it and (optional) heavy cream. I played around with it by omitting the rice and adding chestnuts and cauliflower. Pureed cauliflower in a soup will give it the consistency of cream. I think I came up with a winner. The trick is to get the right proportion of cauliflower to chestnuts. My version is gluten-free, vegetarian and dairy-free.
GLUTEN-FREE HOLIDAY CHESTNUT AND MUSHROOM SOUP
You can substitute port for the sherry. For a thinner soup, leave out the cauliflower. If you want a richer soup, you can substitute heavy cream for the cauliflower. Serve with minced parsley or chives.
Makes 7 1/2 cups
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium leek, white part only, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 rib celery, roughly chopped
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ pounds regular or cremini mushrooms, sliced or coarsely chopped
1 6.5 ounce package peeled and cooked chestnuts roughly chopped (I used Trader Joe's)
1 cup cauliflower, cut into florets
4 cups vegetable stock, preferably homemade. If using boxed and it has a strong taste, dilute it so it's half stock, half water
Bouquet garni of 2 sprigs thyme, 2 sprigs parsley and 4-5 peppercorns
2 tablespoons gluten-free tamari
2 tablespoons dry sherry or port
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon chopped parsley or chives