Wednesday 17 May 2006

chest·nut and len·til soup

It is getting cold here now. The last couple of days have certainly been wintery. Just the weather for a lovely, thick and wonderfully tasty soup. Soup to put in a bowl to wrap your hands around. Makes winter something to welcome.

I am really enjoying lentils and pulses at the moment, a phase perhaps, but a good one. So with the thought of lentils in my mind and the image of a bag of chestnuts before me the perfect soup to make had to be chestnut and lentil.

Chestnuts really give a soup a richness that is hard to beat. The only problem is the peeling of that furry skin within the shell that makes your teeth feel funny if you decide that is close enough while you are peeling. The peeling of chestnuts is not something I can [now] recommend for a whole dish. They are fine, and even fun, to peel as you eat them roasted and dipped lightly in salt. This way you can take your time and know that the reward for your patience and exactness will very shortly be the reward of a delicious roasted chestnut kernel. But for a whole dish of soup your fingers will be sore well before you have finished the pile. I am yet to experiment but I think perhaps this is the time for canned unsweetened chestnut puree, or frozen chestnut crumbs. But then again it could be a labour of love for a small batch just enough for two . . .

I made the soup like this, which was incredibly good ; a great benchmark for experiments with pre-prepared chestnuts :

Lentil and chestnut soup
enough for 4 good portions

450g whole chestnuts, roasted as per this post, and peeled of shell (AND furry inner skin!), chopped
1 cup of red lentils, rinsed
1 litre of water
1 onion, finely chopped
1 stalk of celery, peeled and finely diced
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
some parsley stalks
olive oil
fresh chopped herbs, such as parsley, marjoram, thyme
a good pinch of fennel seeds, lightly crushed
1/2 cup dry sherry or wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste

Put the lentils to cook with the water, onion, celery, carrot, garlic, bay and parsley stalks. Add more water as they cook if you think it is getting a bit dry, we want a soupy texture, but not too liquid. When they are almost cooked heat a soup pan with a bit of olive oil and sauté
the chestnuts and herbs for a few minutes. Deglaze with the wine and add the tomato paste. Remove the bay leaves and parsley stalks from the now cooked lentils and add lentils, vegetables and their liquid to the chestnuts. Simmer briefly then purée to your preferred consistency, either in a blender or with a stick blender. Season to taste with salt and pepper and bring back to the boil. Serve piping hot, with toast if you like.

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