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
To prepare the dried porcini, steep them in boiling water for 15 minutes. Drain, reserving the liquid. Strain the liquid to remove any sand and set aside to use later for stock in the soup.
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a soup pot. Add the chopped onion, leek, carrot, celery and the salt. Saute for 8-10 minutes, until the onions are almost translucent.
Add the garlic, stir, and cook for another minute.
Add the fresh and reconstituted porcini mushrooms, the chestnuts, the cauliflower, the vegetable stock, the mushroom water and the bouquet garni and simmer for 20 minutes, until the cauliflower is very soft.
Let the soup cool a bit. Blend the soup in batches in a blender and then return it to the pot. You can also use an immersion blender but it won't be as smooth.
Once the soup is pureed, add the gluten-free tamari, sherry or port, and season to taste with salt and pepper. If the soup is too thick, thin it out with more vegetable stock. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley or chives.