Chestnuts are a special treat available around the holiday season. Turn them into this delicate and elegant chestnut soup. It's creamy and slightly sweet from the chestnuts - so unusual and delicious. Serve the soup with little toasts covered in a zesty, bubbling topping made of Stilton cheese for a flavour-packed duo that will make your dinner memorable. (Or just make those addictive little stilton toasts to have with another favourite soup.) [Skip to recipe.]
I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, filled with love, joy, peace, and of course some tasty feasting. For most, our celebrations were smaller and different from our usual traditions this year. But we still managed to find joy in the blessings we do have. For us, only one of our four children was able to come home. Our oldest son and his wife both had covid earlier this fall (thankfully they are fine now), so we were able to have them home for Christmas. It filled our hearts to have at least some family to hold close, and we thought often of our others stuck far from home in their spread-out corners of the world. We are thankful for the technology that allows us to connect with them.
Small as our Christmas was this year, with only four of us around the table, the celebrations are not over yet. I know many people are in a hurry to get the tree dismantled and the lights down as soon as Christmas is over, but not me! For Germans, and many other countries, we celebrate the 12 days of Christmas, and those only start on the 25th of December, which is the first day of Christmas (a partridge in a pear tree and all that) and end on January 6 (with the grand finale of 12 drummers drumming). So let's keep celebrating. This crazy year of 2020 especially, we need to find reasons to celebrate (other than the fact it is almost over).
In Europe, chestnuts are a seasonal treat, available in fall and winter. We've enjoyed them roasted and sold from street vendors in Rome in the fall and in Germany at the Christmas markets, warm and sweet and toasty. I am excited when I find them here in northern Canada in the supermarkets at Christmas time. My mom remembered them fondly from growing up in Germany, so they always seemed such a romantic food to me. The nuts are sweet, tender, and starchy with a unique nutty flavour, perfect for nibbling and delicious in all sorts of recipes.
This delicate chestnut soup (called Maronensuppe or Kastaniensuppe in Germany) is lusciously creamy and silky, making a very special meal or elegant starter course. Serve it with toast points covered in a bubbling broiled stilton cheese topping for a zesty counterpoint. It's a simple celebration meal to celebrate the New Year, the 12 days of Christmas, or any other autumn occasion.
Getting chestnuts out of the shell requires a bit of work, so a bowl of this special soup is all the much more a reward and a treat (but you can also go the shortcut route and use prepared roasted and peeled chestnuts available in some markets).
How to Roast Chestnuts
First, you'll want to get into the mood:
Now that you're happily humming along, use a small serrated knife to cut two perpendicular slits through the shell of each chestnut on the rounded side. Try to just cut into the shell, but not too deeply into the nut. This is best done holding the nut in one hand and cutting the '+' with the knife in the other hand. Hold the nut firmly as you cut, so it doesn't slip.
Now lay the chestnuts, cut side up, in a single layer on a baking sheet.
Roast them in a preheated 425°F (220°C) oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until the shells split open and curl back. Mmm, what a lovely nutty aroma.
Pop the roasted chestnuts into a plastic bag and seal the bag so they steam for about 2 minutes, just until they are cool enough to handle. Working quickly, use a paring knife to pull off the shells, and also the thin brown skin covering the nuts inside the shells. If your nuts are nice and fresh, the brown skin will come off easily. If the nuts are older, it will be harder to get the skin off, and you may have to shave it off with a knife in spots. Try to get the skin pulled out of the crevices in the nuts, too.
Work quickly before the nuts cool down too much - they are harder to peel when cool.
Once peeled, the chestnuts are ready to eat out of hand while still warm (a real holiday treat), used whole in recipes, or coarsely chopped for the chestnut soup recipe below.
Have fun peeling, nibbling the sweet nuts, and singing along. The holidays aren't over yet.
We're having this lovely chestnut soup to celebrate the end of 2020. What are you having?
* * * * *
Kitchen Frau Notes: Make sure to get fresh chestnuts, with smooth shiny shells and heavy for their size. If they are older, they are harder to peel.
You can also buy vacuum packed or jarred chestnuts that are already roasted and peeled, to use in this chestnut soup recipe.
Cream of Chestnut Soup (Maronensuppe) with Stilton Toasts
for the chestnut soup:
- 3½ cups (500 g) chopped, roasted & peeled chestnuts (start with ~5 cups/750 grams fresh whole unpeeled chestnuts, see How to Roast Chestnuts, above, or buy prepared pre-cooked and peeled chestnuts)
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves (or ½ teaspoon powdered)
- ½ teaspoon white pepper
- ½ teaspoon dry mustard powder
- 3⅓ cups (800ml) vegetable broth
- 3⅓ cups (800ml) light cream, 10% milkfat (half & half/cereal cream)
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
for the optional topping:
- 1 tablespoon salted butter
- 4 tablespoons panko bread crumbs (gluten free if necessary)
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- thinly sliced green onions/scallions
- Serve with Stilton Toasts (see recipe below)
If starting with fresh, whole chestnuts, roast and peel them first. See the instructions above the recipe (cut the rounded side of each chestnut with a + just through the peel, lay cut side up on a baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes at 425°F/220°C. Place in sealed bag for 2 minutes to cool. Peel.) Chop chestnuts coarsely. If using pre-cooked and peeled chestnuts, no need to roast them, just chop them coarsely. Set aside.
Melt the butter over medium-high heat in a heavy bottomed saucepan or dutch oven. Cook the garlic for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add the choppped chestnuts, marjoram, white pepper, and mustard powder, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
Add the vegetable broth, bring the soup to a simmer, then cover and cook at a simmer for 15 minutes.
Purée the soup in a blender in batches or use an immersion blender to blend it in the pot. (A canister blender will make a smoother soup.) Return the blended soup to the pot.
Add the cream and heat the soup just until you see the first small bubbles appearing and it is fully heated through - do not let it boil, or it may curdle. Stir in the nutmeg. Taste, and add salt or more white pepper if it needs it.
If making the crunchy toppings, melt the butter in a small heavy skillet until foamy. Add the panko bread crumbs and cook and stir over medium heat until the bread crumbs are nicely browned. Stir in the nutmeg.
Serve the soup plain or with a sprinkling of the nutmeg crumbs and some finely sliced green onion (sliced on a steep diagonal). Serve with Stilton Toasts on the side.
*You can freeze the puréed chestnut base of this soup. To serve, thaw it and proceed with the recipe, adding the cream and nutmeg.
Makes 8 cups, serving 4 for a main course, or 8 for a first course.
- 1 cup (125 g) crumbled stilton cheese (or other blue cheese)
- ¼ cup (4 tablespoons) mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
- ½ teaspoon maple syrup or honey
- 2 green onions/scallions, finely sliced
- 4 slices bread (gluten free if necessary)
Preheat the broiler grill in the oven.
Stir together the crumbled stilton cheese, mayonnaise, wine vinegar, maple syrup or honey, and sliced green onions with a fork until well combined.
Toast the bread slices until golden and crispy.
Spread ¼ of the cheese mixture onto each toast, using a fork and making sure it is spread right to the edges.
Lay the toasts onto a cookie sheet and set them on a rack about 6 inches (15cm) below the broiler element. Grill them until bubbling and golden brown in spots. Watch them carefully so they don't burn. It will only take 1 to 2 minutes. Cut the toasts into quarters.
Serves 4 (or 8 for a first course).
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