Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Chestnuts Simmering on an Electric Element: Chestnut and Lentil Soup with Parsley Cream and Toasted Walnuts

It is for certain a Monday after a holiday weekend: feelings of "I should be more rested than this!" and "Or maybe I should have slept more?" creep through your thoughts, and all you can think about is going home, having a nap and eating a nice lunch. And really, who wants to think about food after Thanksgiving? Well, I do, and I wanted to make something that was easy, light but still satisfying. To be honest, I have to (love to!) think about food-I study the various components, forms and reactions each day.

I acquired a beautiful new bowl from my aunt (below), and I had been eyeing a bag of red lentils in my cupboard. By complete luck, I also and roasted chestnuts I randomly* acquired a few weeks ago. I had also been dreaming of Italy, so naturally, chestnut and lentil soup seemed pretty logical. I looked up a few guidelines on how to whip this up, and modified it from here and here. I also read-up on the history of the Abruzzo region in Italy (thank you, Wikipedia…), where the starts of this soup hail from, since both lentils and chestnuts are specialties of the area. Next September, I hope to find myself in L'Aquila celebrating lenticchie (lentils) in the annual festival honoring the regional specialty (really, who else but the Italians would throw a lentil party?). Obviously, I did not get my hands on the real lenticchie traditionally used, so used red lentils. Red lentils cook rather quickly, and to be honest, it was the only type I had on hand! If you use a type that cooks slowly, you will need to simmer the soup longer, and potentially add more liquid to accommodate. As for the chestnuts: I had a bag that were pre-roasted and shelled. You can find these at well stocked grocery stores, especially around the holidays. You could use canned or jarred, simply drain and rinse before using.

The new bowl-the classic cobalt blue and white.
My modifications include: adding a touch of rosemary, pouring in a splash of milk pre-puree for a smoother consistency and adding in a (generous) dashes of freshly grated nutmeg and a drizzle of honey. I also decided, as I usually do with pureed soupy-things, to make a topping of contrasting flavor and toss in a few crunchy elements in the form of toasted walnuts. A few things I would definitely do next time: add more chestnuts, add less liquid, caramelize onions for a sweet-savory flavor base to compliment the chestnuts. I could also live with omitting the dairy-based topping, and subbing it just for some grated salty, hard cheese (parmesan, pecorino, asiago…) and a generous sprinkling of parsley.

Mmm, lentils. 
At any rate, the soup is good: it reminded me of the base for a hearty bean soup, but similar in starchy-thick texture and savory flavor of lentil soup. The chestnuts, I have to admit, did not stand-out as much as I had hoped, so will be adding more next time. Serve with plenty of crusty, warm bread regardless if you decided to adorn with the accouterments above (guides below!). The soup easily re-heats, with a touch of additional liquid to help thin, a few extra dashes of salt and nutmeg. Mangia mangia!

Chestnut and Lentil Soup
Serves 6 generously

1/2 pound (8 ounces) roasted, shelled chestnuts
1 pound (16 ounces) red lentils
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 small, sweet onion
4 cloves garlic, whole and smashed
1 carrot
2 stalks celery
1 cup diced tomatoes, fresh or canned
10 cups vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
generous pinches of each oregano, thyme, marjoram
fresh grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
1/2 cup roughly chopped parsley plus additional for topping
1/2 cup milk (any kind, except skim)
salt and pepper

Soup Accouterments:

Parsley Cream
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup sour cream or yogurt
1 teaspoon honey

Mix all, with fresh parsley to taste by snipping with shears or chopping
Salt and pepper to taste, then dollop on bowls of soup before serving

Garlic-Scented Toasted Walnuts
Toast roughly chopped walnuts in a 375F oven until fragrant, about 10 minutes
Finley grate over 2 cloves of garlic, or to your taste, and toss with the warm nuts for an aromatic experience
Crusty Bread
This on is self-explanatory: get a nice French or Italian style crust bread, slice, and warm in a 350-375F oven to desired crunchy texture.

Large soup pot, preferably heavy bottom to prevent scorching
Wood spoon
Cutting board
Microplane or fine-toothed grater
Blender or immersion blender
Measuring cups
Additional bowls for toasted nuts and parsley cream

Warm the olive oil in the soup pot. Chop the celery, onion and carrots into 1" pieces, roughly, and add to the warmed oil in the pot. Toss in the smashed garlic cloves, and cook the mixture until the onions take-on brown color, and the garlic is soft. Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, dried herbs, fresh rosemary and parsley, and nutmeg. Stir, using the wooden spoon to scrape off the caramelized vegetable bits from the bottom of the pan.
There is something satisfying about a strong, sturdy wood spoon scraping caramelized bits of vegetable off a cast iron pot….
Add the stock, and the bay leaf. Bring the mixture to a simmer.

Meanwhile, chop the chestnuts and measure the lentils. Add them to the simmering pot, and cover. Simmer over medium-low for about 20 minutes, checking occasionally.

Chopped chestnuts
Once the vegetables, lentils and chestnuts are tender, add the milk and puree the soup using an immersion blender or regular blender (use caution, for the steam in the regular blender may cause the lid to pop-off; I recommend using small batches if using a blender for this reason…and be careful!). You may leave some texture-it is up to your preference. Taste the soup for seasoning, adjusting for your preferences. I added a touch of honey, more salt and nutmeg to suit mine. Return to the heat for a moment, then portion out into bowls, and adorn as desired.

The soup-delicious!

No comments:

Post a Comment