Friday, December 26, 2008

Recipe: Chestnut, Celery Root and Apple Soup

Peeling the chestnuts.

(Makes 6 to 8 servings)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 medium leek, white part only, thinly sliced, washed and dried
2 apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
10 ounces celery root (a.k.a. celeriac), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 pound peeled fresh chestnuts (from about 1 1/4 pounds chestnuts in the shell) or dry-packed bottled or vacuum-sealed peeled chestnuts
2 quarts homemade vegetable stock (onions, celery, carrots, parsley stems, leek tops, thyme, bay- see below)
Good neutral-tasting extra virgin olive oil, or canola oil, to taste
A splash of champagne vinegar or lemon (optional, to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper, to garnish

MAKE A VEGETABLE STOCK: Cut up carrots, celery, and onions into 1-inch pieces. You can also add parsley stems and leek tops if you have them. Add some fresh thyme and a bay leaf or two, and brown it all together in a stock pot with a little oil. The caramelization on the vegetables will add flavor to your soup. When the vegetables are soft, add water (adding boiled water will make it go faster), and put heat on high til it boils. Then turn heat down to medium-low and simmer one, to one and a half, hour. Strain, reserving the liquid, and toss out the cooked veggies. This is your vegetable stock.

(This step with take the longest and is labor intensive, so invite your friends to help) In order to use fresh chestnuts, you have to score, steam, and peel them first. You can use store-bought steamed chestnuts, but the flavor won't be the same. To score the nuts, carve an "X" into the top of each shell with a sharp knife (deep enough to cut through the shell, but not into the nut). This will allow moisture to penetrate the nut while steaming. When you have scored all the chestnuts, put them into a steamer over boiling water for 5-10 minutes. Take the chestnuts out in small batches and peel them with a small paring knife. The shell comes off easiest when the chestnuts are still hot, so keep them warm on the steamer or wrapped in towels while you work. If they get cold while you work, return them to the steamer in small batches and get them hot again. Remove all the papery skin from the nut as well as the shell. Keep the peeled nuts covered with a damp towel to keep them moist until you use them.

MAKE THE SOUP BASE: For the soup, heat the oil in a stockpot or large casserole over medium heat. Add the onion, leek, apples, celery root, bay leaf, thyme, nutmeg and salt to taste and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until the onions and leeks are soft but not colored. Add the chestnuts and vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook, skimming the surface regularly to remove any froth, for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the chestnuts are soft. Discard the bay leaf and thyme. Grate in a tiny amount of nutmeg from a whole nutmeg.

PUREE AND EMULSIFY: Puree the soup until smooth using a blender. With the blender still running, add a small drizzle of good, neutral-tasting oil to emulsify the soup a little (this will add body). If it's too thick add a little more vegetable stock; if it's too thin let it simmer and reduce a little more.

FINISH: Balance the flavors of the soup by adding more salt if necessary, or a tiny splash of acid (vinegar or lemon) a little at a time (you only want to turn up the natural flavors, not make it taste sour). Ladle into bowls and finish with freshly ground black pepper.

Recipe by Yasmin.

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