If offered a choice between chestnuts roasting on an open fire and Jack Frost nipping at my nose, I'd take the chestnuts, every time.
The chestnut is something of a holiday tradition. It plays a starring role in turkey stuffings at Thanksgiving and Christmas and gala desserts (such as the candied marron glacee) at French New Year's celebrations. And the smell of chestnuts sizzling on a New York vendor's cart is one of winter's most evocative scents.
In a variety of forms -- fresh, boiled, and ground into flour as well as roasted -- chestnuts are eaten in both Asia and Europe (where they were reportedly spread by Roman legions), and are also valued as an important cash crop. The spreading chestnut trees of Longfellow fame, and their burr-covered nuts, used to be a common sight in this country, too, but the native American chestnut forests were wiped out by a parasitic fungus between 1904 and 1940.
Nevertheless, imported European chestnuts are plentiful enough for all your seasonal munching. And, unlike much holiday fare, they are low in calories.
This soup, from "Vegetable Cookery" by Lou Seibert Pappas (HP Books), is ofItalian derivation, and complements pork or duck dishes.
1 pound fresh chestnuts
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 1/3 cups chopped carrot
1 cup chopped celery
1 quart chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup half and half
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
To peel fresh chestnuts, pierce tops with a pointed knife and place in a 2-quart saucepan. Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and immediately remove from heat. Drain and peel a few at a time, leaving remaining chestnuts in hot water. If they cool and become difficult to peel, reheat quickly; don't cook chestnuts or they will be impossible to peel.
Melt butter in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, carrots and celery. Saute 10 minutes or until vegetables are glazed.
Add broth, salt, pepper and cloves. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat. Simmer 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add chestnuts. Simmer 10 minutes to blend flavors. Cool slightly.
Puree mixture in 2 to 3 batches in a blender or food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add half and half. Process just to mix in.
=1 Ladle soup into bowls. Sprinkle with parsley.