Chestnut Soup with Bacon & Parsley

14 December 2011

Post image for Chestnut Soup with Bacon & Parsley

As soon as the street vendors start setting up their chestnut-roasting stations in Zurich, I know that Christmas is around the corner. I adore these roasted beauties, their sweet and fluffy interior making for the perfect street snack when you need something warm and filling. Sometimes when the air is bitingly cold, a little bag of roasted chestnuts is the perfect excuse to warm your hands while you are waiting for your tram.

In Switzerland, chestnuts are used in a variety of desserts, most commonly in a dessert called Vermicelles where the chestnuts are sweetened in a purée and then pushed through a ricer or similar instrument to produce delicious “noodles” which can be eaten as is or as a decoration on top of cakes. Vermicelles are most commonly served atop some whipped cream with some crushed meringues for added sweetness and texture, a dessert sometimes referred to as Mont Blanc outside of Switzerland.

{A chocolate and chestnut cake decorated with sweetened chestnut purée. A seasonal specialty from Sprüngli, a popular patisserie in Zurich}

I particularly love Marron Glacés, a chestnut which has been candied to give a sticky and sweet coating. As a child, I was always given a box of these decadent treats at Christmas, something which I have since had to buy for myself each year out of nostalgia.

{Marron Glacés from Sprüngli. I would love a bag of these in my Christmas stocking ... hint, hint ... }

Aside from their uses in baking and desserts, chestnuts are also a welcome addition in many savoury dishes, such as sautéed with brussels sprouts or glazed and sweetened to serve alongside roast meats. Their starchy content makes them a wonderful alternative to potatoes during the winter season.

You can buy chestnuts whole and fresh and prepare them yourself, but they can be a bit fiddly. I think the only time I would go to this trouble is when I would roast them at home and have each person crack open the chestnuts as they eat them. Otherwise, chestnuts can be found ready-prepared and sold in vacuum-sealed packs or tinned in water. If buying them tinned, try the French brand, Clément Faugier, who sell chestnuts prepared in a variety of ways. When buying tinned chestnuts for savoury dishes, make sure that they are not sweetened.

One of my favourite uses of chestnuts is to add them to a simple vegetable soup; once puréed, the soup takes on the lovely sweetness of the chestnuts and thickens the soup like potatoes would.

Due to their cost, chestnuts may not be an everyday ingredient, so it makes sense to make an occasion out of their use. Here is a recipe for a soup which I like to make during the Christmas season. The bacon topping is optional, but I love it in soups like these for some added texture and, of course, flavour. If you wish to make a vegetarian version of this soup, simply substitute the chicken stock for vegetable stock.

Soupe aux châtaignes (marrons)

Ingrédients pour 4 personnes
20g de beurre
1 branche de céleri
1 carotte
1 oignon jaune
1 litre de bouillon de volaille
250g de châtaignes sous vide
1 feuille de laurier
6 à 8 tranches fines de lard
persil plat ciselé

Dans un faitout moyen faire revenir à feu doux environ 10 minutes – avec du beurre additionné d’un peu d’huile d’olive – céleri, carotte et oignon sommairement coupés en morceaux.

Ajouter ensuite le bouillon, les châtaignes, la feuille de laurier et laisser mijoter environ 30 minutes.
Retirer la feuille de laurier, mixer le mélange et poursuivre doucement la cuisson. Si le potage est trop épais, on peut ajouter un peu d’eau. Assaisonner à volonté.

Finition en option: Faire dorer les tranches fines de lard dans un peu d’huile puis les sécher dans du papier absorbant. Les détailler en morceaux. Réserver.

Servir la soupe saupoudrée de copeaux de lard et de persil ciselé.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

manu 15 December 2011 at 8:22 am

OMG everything looks so beautiful and yummy!
I love thr cake…
Have a great day

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Anita Menon 15 December 2011 at 8:28 am

Haven’t used or tasted Chestnuts before but with the description you gave here, I feel extremely tempted. I would love a bowl of that soup (minus the bacon) right now. It is so cold in here.

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eat, little bird 15 December 2011 at 6:27 pm

You’ve never tasted chestnuts before? Oh I do hope you will get to try them at some point soon – they are really delicious!! Which makes this soup extra special because they add a lovely sweetness to the soup.

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Caroline 15 December 2011 at 9:34 am

Chestnuts are only a recent addition to my kitchen and tastebuds but I love it with complete abandon! Do not leave me alone with a jar of Clement Faugier sweetened chestnut puree. Get cosy, [pick spoon, dunk, lick and keep going….I have finished a small jar in one sitting! :-S I also adore it in the ways you mention Thanh and this soup looks wonderful! I have Nigella’s soup to make, which is similar to yours and I find its a great one to make for a large number of people as it thickens up nicely and so, can go far!

Beautiful photographs and so envy you your gorgeous crockery!

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eat, little bird 15 December 2011 at 7:09 pm

Thanks, Carrie! I’ve also often made Nigella’s Lentil and Chestnut Soup in the past but once didn’t have red lentils to hand and came up with this simpler version. But the lentils do make it more sweet and filling, so it is definitely great for when you have a lot of people over!

I’m with you on the sweetened chestnut purée :-) I always find myself lugging back tins and tins when we go to France, and then panicking when there’s only one tin left standing in the pantry. But we are off to France next week and I already have my shopping list prepared! :-)

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Caroline 18 December 2011 at 7:29 pm

Hmph….show off! Enjoy your trip and think of me as you lick a spoonful of that divine, earth coloured , sweet, nutty paste! Siggghh….

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Liz Headon 15 December 2011 at 11:19 am

Mmmm… I love chestnuts, eaten any and every way ! I was very tempted by the chestnut stalls on the Christmas markets in Prague, but had eaten so much I felt I really couldn’t indulge. I regret my self-restraint now though !

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eat, little bird 15 December 2011 at 7:11 pm

Oh shame!! I don’t like food regrets either … you’ll just have to visit continental Europe again soon to make up for this missed opportunity ;-)

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Amber 15 December 2011 at 12:18 pm

I love love love chestnuts! They’re really hard to find at any time other than around the holidays where I live in the US. I plan to bring some vac packed ones back with me from England. And the roasted chestnuts – love them! I had them twice last week while walking through Christmas markets.

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eat, little bird 15 December 2011 at 7:15 pm

Do they sell vac-packed chestnuts in the US? I hadn’t thought about that … Luckily one can find vac-packed and tinned chestnuts year-round in Switzerland, but I only seem to really cook with them around this time of year. I absolutely adore roasted chestnuts! In fact, all of this talking about chestnuts is almost making be brave the cold for a visit to the street vendor! Btw, which Christmas markets did you visit?

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Amber 15 December 2011 at 9:04 pm

I can’t say for the whole US, but I’ve lived in Los Angeles (I found them there), NYC (you can find anything there), and a few midwestern cities (only find tinned or raw around the holidays).

I absolutely love Christmas markets so I made plans to travel around and visit lots while my husband is visiting his mother here. I’ve been to the London, Dublin, Glasgow, Edinburgh, York, and Newcastle markets this year. I went a little overboard buying stuff but it’s been 3 years since I was here in December (I usually spend my summers here since it’s cooler) so I had to just go for it!

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eat, little bird 15 December 2011 at 11:17 pm

Oh wow!! How lucky you are to visit the Christmas markets in so many cities already this year! In my opinion, you can never go overboard buying things when on holidays – I think it’s better to go home with excess luggage than filled with some regret :-) I’m sure my husband disagrees with this logic! Enjoy the rest of your trip!

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The Food Sage 16 December 2011 at 1:04 pm

Mmmmm – chestnuts. Roasted and juggled hand to hand next to an open fire. Brings back memories of bonfire night in the UK…

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Julia Levy 2 January 2012 at 5:17 pm

I have left over chestnuts, two boxes. oh what shall i do…. SOUP!

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eat, little bird 2 January 2012 at 9:59 pm

If you need to find a way to use up leftover chestnuts, I can highly recommend this soup :-) Nigella also has a great recipe in How to Eat which I am sure you are also familiar with. Hope you have had a wonderful start to the New Year!

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